Can agriculture solve the problem of homelessness across the country?

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Nature can be a powerful tool, but it’s not easy to find in the middle of the city.

However, if you ask Miranda Twitchell, she’ll tell you that once nature is discovered, it can be life-changing.

“This is a magical place. And it’s right here in the middle, right here in the middle of town,” Twitchell said. “Because it’s a safe place for women, I’ve been a battered wife, I’ve been abused, I’ve had serious injuries and it’s very hard to be accepted there, but here we’re all people who come to do the same thing.”

Escaping homelessness is like walking through a revolving door, and this place can be seen as an exit door that wasn’t there before.

“Trying to get back into the workforce after being out of work for a while is really, really hard,” Twitchell said.

Green Phoenix Farm, part of Wasatch Community Gardens in Salt Lake City, is an example of success. This vocational training program is designed for women who have experienced homelessness. They are offered employment, mentoring and advocacy.

“In 2021, we produced $110,000 in value from 0.8 acres under crop, which is 17 times the economic output of your average vegetable farm in the United States,” said James Loomis, the farm’s director.

“Our recruitment is very much about advocacy for women living on the street,” said Jackie Rodabow, director of the job training program.

All this takes place on a farm under skyscrapers.

“The magic is just being out in nature, working the soil, working with the plants and seeing the effect it has on the women who work here, the volunteers and basically everyone who walks through the gates,” Loomis said.

Loomis uses the process of farming as a tool of life.

“People living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, often have very little time. Yes, we’re talking 24 hours or less. Nothing like planting a seed and letting it sprout for a few days to just push through that time horizon,” Loomis said.

These tools can be used in other cities to contribute to the bigger picture.

“We are also actively working with social workers, with local shelters and other service providers to get the word out,” Rodabov said.

“Programs like ours sometimes seem expensive at first glance, but when compared to what we as a city, state and federal government spend on homeless resources, it actually makes a lot of sense to provide paid work that supports other needs in the community , ” Loomis said.

The US Interagency Council on Homelessness says a single homeless person costs taxpayers $30,000 to $50,000 a year. So far, this program has about an 80% success rate.

“Not only do they get housing and work after the program, they look for it and become mentors to other women in the program,” Loomis said.

“You’re helping the community, you’re helping yourself, you’re building a support group and you’re learning skills to deal with what’s going on. And it takes the trauma out of the traumatic life of homelessness,” Twitchell said

Women like Twitchell are using their new skills and knowledge in the real world, feeling empowered to be productive members of their community.

“Instead of just existing and surviving, I’m starting to live my life,” Twitchell said.

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