2018-07-11 / Farm & Ranch

Urban farm grows opportunities for former inmates, veterans

CHICAGO (AP) - An agricultural program in Chicago is providing transitional job training to former inmates and veterans at a new urban farm.

Windy City Harvest Corps is a 14-week Chicago Botanic Garden program. The program helps previously incarcerated individuals and veterans find full-time employment in the agricultural industry.

The Harvest Corps is managing Farm on Ogden, which promotes healthy food habits in the North Lawndale neighborhood, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The new 20,000- square-foot facility will provide training to more than 100 people in its first year. It's also expected to aggregate more than 177,000 pounds of produce annually.

Harvest Corps Coordinator Joan Hopkins said program participants work full-time and are paid bi-weekly. They are taught skills, including planting, harvesting, post-harvest handling, record keeping, landscaping and overall workplace safety.

Program participant Dawvid Chayim began his journey in March after meeting Hopkins at a job fair. He has since learned how to construct an aquaponics system, raising fish and plants together.

``When I saw the blueprints of what we were going to do, I was like `Whoa, this is impossible,''' Chayim said. ``It was overwhelming at first, but once I got into it and learned the system, everything came naturally. I guess it's a hidden talent I never knew I had.''

He said the most rewarding aspect of the program is the people he works with.

``I work with an incredible team and some of the best people I ever worked with,'' Chayim said. ``This place is not just a job, it is more like a family. We really care about each other.''

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