Verde Gardens employees were invited to a dinner at Tuyo earlier this month.

Homeless Trust Partnership Seeks Support From Restaurants, Patrons


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

done before."

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 MNetwork

The result was a 22-acre farm in Homestead called

Verde 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

the produce to supplement its own organic farm located on MDC's Wolfson

Campus. Other restaurants are encouraged to contact Van Aken for more


Recently, a number of workers from the farm were

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.

The MNetwork
Fresh organic squash picked at the farm.

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

lisa.mozloom@themnetwork.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.

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