For most of us, farming is not an occupation we'd associate with the south side of Chicago. But for 37-year-old JASMINE EASTER, a small farm in her urban neighborhood was the leg up she needed for a better career.
Getting involved with agriculture was also an opportunity to help bring healthy, fresh produce to one of our region's "food deserts," where residents have little or no access to groceries that sell fresh, nutritious food.
After enduring months of unemployment, Jasmine was accepted into the job training program at Growing Home, Inc. This community-supported agriculture project operates an urban garden and farm — which grew 10,000 pounds of crops last year — along with a larger farm southwest of Joliet. The nonprofit enterprise provides locally grown food to residents and job training for a seven-month growing season to people facing significant employment hurdles.
Jasmine took full advantage of the opportunity, volunteering to use her bicycle to deliver the produce to shareholders throughout her neighborhood. She performed so well on the farm that Growing Home hired her. That opened the door to Jasmine's current job as a team leader training new participants at the Enterprising Kitchen, another nonprofit that provides work experience for low-income women as they create and sell soap and spa products.
"It's good for people to see that there are individuals who come through these [workforce training] programs that are willing to step up and apply themselves and to try to learn different skills and move up in the workforce," Jasmine says. "We are employable people." With little access to healthy foods, residents of neighborhoods like hers benefit from the nutritious produce that Growing Home sells at a reasonable price. Participants in the co-op learn how to plant, cultivate, and harvest organic produce. Résumé writing classes and mock interviews help them find employment after the training program.
"I really learned how to speak up and let people know that you're ready to get back into the workforce," Jasmine says.