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Could farming bring solutions to homelessness across the country?

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Posted at 12:50 PM, Oct 24, 2022

Nature can be a powerful tool, but it’s not easy to find in the middle of a 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, here’s downtown right here,” Twitchell said. “Because it’s a safe place for women, I’ve been the battered wife, I’ve been abused, I’ve had some severe trauma and it’s really hard to be accepted out there, but here, we're all people coming to do the same thing.”

Escaping homelessness is like walking straight through a revolving door and this place can be seen as the exit door that previously wasn’t there.

Trying to get back in the workforce after being out of work for a while is really, really hard," Twitchell said

The Green Phoenix Farm, a part of Wasatch Community Gardens in Salt Lake City, is setting an example of success. This job training program is for women who have experienced homelessness. They are being offered employment, mentorship and advocacy.

“In 2021, we produced $110,000 worth of value off of .8 acres under cultivation, which is 17 times the economic output of your average vegetable farm in the United States,” said James Loomis, director of the farm.

"Our recruitment is a lot of direct outreach to women who are living on the streets,” said Jackie Rodabaugh, job training program director.

This is all happening on a farm that sits beneath skyscrapers.

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

Loomis uses the process of farming as a lifestyle tool.

“Folks living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, often have a really short time horizon. Right, we’re talking 24 hours or less. Nothing like planting a seed and giving it a few days to germinate, to just crash right through that time horizon,” Loomis said

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

“We also do a lot of outreach with social workers, with the local shelters here and other service providers to get the word out,” Rodabaugh said.

“Programs like ours sometimes seem expensive on their face but when you compare that to what we as a city, state and federal government spend on homeless resources, it actually makes a lot of sense to provide paying jobs that support another need in the community,” Loomis said.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says one homeless person costs taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year. So far, this program has about an 80% success rate.

“Not only are they getting housed and getting jobs after the program, they seek them and they 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 help cope with the things that are going on. And it’s taking the trauma out of the traumatic life of homelessness,” Twitchell said

Women like Twitchell are using their newfound skills and knowledge out in the real world feeling fulfilled to be productive members of their community.

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