the Homeless Trust was given $50 million from Miami-Dade county to
build affordable housing, the 27-member board scoured the nation to find
the best ways similar organizations had spent their money. They
had been effective over a 20-year history, having reduced the number
of homeless in Miami-Dade county from 10,000 in 1992 to just about 870
today. But just buying land and building houses on it wasn't addressing
the root cause.
"You have to give people a sense of
self-worth that could only be obtained through gainful employment," said
Trust chairman Ron Book. "The way we chose to do that has never been
Book and the Trust traveled to
California, where folks built a farm and microenterprise with
effective results. In Colorado, homeless advocates combined a housing
program with a job placement program, with one dependent and beneficial
to the other. The Trust decided that a plot in Homestead would be the
perfect place to conjoin the efforts in Colorado and California.
The result was a 22-acre farm in Homestead calledVerde Gardens
where 550 formerly homeless residents of a nearby housing development
have the opportunity to work on the farm. The 145 residential units are
the result of a joint venture between the Homeless Trust and Carrfour
Supportive Housing and are only offered to the formerly homeless or
households where at least one person has a disability.The farm is
operated by Earth Learning, a nonprofit entity that is dedicated to
inspiring life-sustaining culture in South Florida. Earth Learning
trains the workers and maintains working conditions on the farm.
Culinary Institute's Tuyo Restaurant and executive chef Norman Van Aken
recently made headlines by becoming the first fine dining establishment
ever to partner with such a program.
"Not only do we (Tuyo)
benefit such a great and worthwhile cause," said Van Aken,."But we are also getting good quality, organic fruits and
vegetables that could not be any fresher."
Tuyo receives boxes
and baskets weekly full of produce harvested at the Verde Gardens farm,
everything from arugula to zucchini. The eco-friendly restaurant uses
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the produce to supplement its own organic farm located on MDC's Wolfson
Campus. Other restaurants are encouraged to contact Van Aken for more
treated to a dinner at Tuyo in order to see where the fruits of their
labor end up. One worker, 25-year-old ex-Marine Xavier Wright, was
unemployed for two years after suffering an injury in the line of duty."This
program has had a drastic impact on me and my family," said Wright. "My
kids see that I'm working, see how life should be. The things that I
learned will stay with me for the rest of my life and get passed on."
is currently being trained by Earth Learning in permaculture design, a
branch of ecological design and engineering which develops
sustainable human settlements and self-maintained agricultural systems
modeled from natural ecosystems. He came up with the idea to grow
certain types of plants on water, a project he is currently working on
along with the folks at Earth Learning.
Curious on how
you can get involved? The quickest way for the average citizen to do
his or her part, while also getting fresh produce at great prices, is
head down to the Verde Gardens farmer's market Friday
from 2pm to 8pm and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Get off your couch and
make the drive this weekend instead of shuffling over to Publix or
Winn-Dixie. You'll taste the difference in everything you prepare.
representatives can contact Lisa Mozloom at
email@example.com for more information on how to support the
program. Homeless who think they may qualify or would like more
information can contact the Homeless Trust.