Urban farm is providing life skills to the homeless

A row of leafy greens in the GREEN TEAM farm. Photo by Isaac Riddle.
A row of leafy greens in the GREEN TEAM farm. Photo by Isaac Riddle.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot good news coming from the west side of downtown Salt Lake.  The city’s homelessness epidemic and growing quality of life issues typically dominate the narrative surrounding the Rio Grande neighborhood.

But several blocks north of the Road Home Shelter, at 625 W 100 S, a program is underway that is teaching homeless women life skills while providing food for low-income children.  On Wednesday morning, leaders from the GREEN TEAM, a collaboration between the Downtown Alliance, Wasatch Community Gardens, Advantage Services and Salt Lake City, officially dedicated the program called the GREEN TEAM Farm project.

“More than just a place to get your hands dirty in the garden, the Green Team will bring much-needed mentorship and job training to these women,” wrote councilmember Derek Kitchen in social media post.

The project aims to provide an active use to a neglected urban area while providing garden-based job training to a group of eight women experiencing homelessness.  Participants commit to a 10-month training program where they learn job and life skills including: organic gardening, vegetable production and small farm management.  The produce from the farm goes to low-income children in the Salt Lake Valley through the Head Start program.

The first group of participants started in August.  The group will harvest until November.  Current crops are mostly cool weather greens and vegetables.

“People don’t realize how much you can still grow when the weather is cool,” said James Loomis, the GREEN TEAM Farm manager.

The farm project is the sister program to the Clean Team, a group of homeless and formerly homeless individuals that clean up the Rio Grande neighborhood.  As with the GREEN TEAM farm, the Clean Team is the result of a collaboration with the city, Downtown Alliance and Advantage Services.

City and County officials are in the site selection process for two new emergency shelters proposed for Salt Lake City.  The new shelters, proposed at 250 beds each, are intended to reduce the stress on the Road Home Shelter that is often overcrowded and encourages loitering on 500 West.   City Council members are requesting more shelters with fewer beds per shelter, but the final decision will be made by the Mayor’s office.

In addition to the new shelters, Salt Lake County officials plan to implement preventative strategies intended to reduce the need for emergency shelter beds.

“The greatest challenge we have is to provide shelter and safety while simultaneously treating the root causes of homelessness,” said Salt Lake City Mayor, Jackie Biskupski.

The GREEN TEAM farm is temporarily powered by solar panels.
The GREEN TEAM farm is temporarily powered by solar panels.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.