Maybe you’ve heard of the hashtag #goodinenglewood, or maybe you haven’t. But I can speak firsthand of the truth behind this new neighborhood catchphrase. There are so many shining stars emerging in the Chicago Southside neighborhood, often known not for its good but for its struggles: crime, homelessness, joblessness. But as the #goodinenglewood movement seeks to illuminate, Englewood is much more than its stereotypes.
One of the organizations at the heart of this movement and responsible for much of the neighborhood’s transformation over the past decade is Growing Home. In the midst of an urban community severely lacking fresh food, Growing Home is producing pounds and pounds of fresh, organic produce, including 40 different types of tomatoes, all on two plots of land.
Even more remarkable is Growing Home’s role as a rehabilitation organization. The program accepts applicants who are struggling to find employment, bordering on homelessness, just released from jail, and, most importantly, who are looking to change their lives and are willing to work hard for it—on a farm. And its support goes far beyond teaching gardening skills; the program also provides instruction in personal and life skills and partners with other organizations throughout the city, from legal clinics to healthcare centers, to support every aspect of helping its participants take charge of their own lives. Once a graduate completes the program, they are always welcome back, whether to help with a harvest or to seek additional aid.
This year the organization is celebrating 10 years in Englewood. As part of Growing Home’s annual benefit last month, Leff Communications produced a video highlighting its history; its influence in Englewood; and the direct benefits the program has on its graduates, their families, and the community.
We spent two days in Englewood with a small camera crew: Scott Leff and I conducted interviews, Andrew Dryer handled videography and photography, and Rich Pooler managed sound. April Harrington, Growing Home’s development director, also joined us both days and proved invaluable for her connections in the neighborhood and her relationship with Growing Home’s crew members and graduates.
Our first day was spent primarily at Kusanya Café, one of Englewood’s first sit-down restaurants. We talked with patrons; shot the building and surrounding area; interviewed Phil Sipka, the co-owner; and ate a lunch that has had me dreaming of returning ever since.
Our second day started with an early-morning crew meeting where members and staff alike took turns sharing what leadership qualities they would embody during that day’s work, which happened to be the year’s very first harvest.
The smell of greens and soil permeated the hoop houses as crew members plucked collard greens, radishes, and Growing Home’s farm stand favorite—spinach—from the ground and transported them back to the main house. In the main house, the air was heavy with moisture and the floors smeared with dirt and water. Crew members joked and laughed while washing and weighing, bagging and stickering the produce “USDA organic.”
Andrew ducked and wove around the hoop house and the small room, capturing the process; Rich caught tidbits of conversation; Scott and I prepared for the day’s interviews. And all of us, I think, enjoyed the opportunity to don some sunscreen and spend the day primarily outside.
Besides being in the sun, the fun and also challenging part for us on this shoot was the same as it is when working with any client: To help the organization tell its unique story. And there were a lot of good stories here—the development of Englewood, the growth and expansion of Growing Home, the transformation of their graduates. Our work was to craft a succinct narrative out of all these compelling elements.
Though our primary task was to create a poignant video to show just before the paddle raise at the annual benefit, it also needed to serve a variety of other functions. We wanted it to provide enough background information about the organization that it could stand on its own. While anyone at the benefit would likely have a decent grasp on what Growing Home does, especially after hearing multiple speeches on the subject preceding the video, the video would be lacking without some context.
What we ended up with is a story about turning points. Turning points in Englewood and within Growing Home, and, perhaps most importantly, the way Growing Home acts as a turning point in the lives of its participants—people who are forever changed by their time on that farm.
We were so thrilled to work with this organization and to help them meet their fundraising goals. We hope the video does so much good for this group—as much or more good than the project did for us personally. Growing Home is an incredibly worthwhile organization doing powerful, important work to change lives. Working with them was a delight and privilege—and the hefty bag of produce we all left with at the end of the two days didn’t hurt either. I truly believe there is #goodinenglewood and that Growing Home and their graduates are a vital part of it.
I challenge you to watch the video and not be touched by the personal stories of triumph. And take this opportunity to decide for yourself: Is there good in Englewood?