September 24, 2013 – If the City of Santa Cruz gives its final approval later this fall, the Homeless Garden Project could finally have a home of its own—and enjoy a new level of sustainability for its important work in helping homeless people restore their spirits and get back on their feet.
For nearly 20 years, the HGP has been nestled on a borrowed, picturesque bit of the Natural Bridges area, within walking distance of the beach and Long Marine Lab. It’s on this farm where Edible Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz Weekly will join forces to sponsor a fall farm supper and honor our 2013 Local Heroes while raising money for HGP. The dinner will feature the food of chefs from La Balena, Passionfish, The Penny Ice Creamery and Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar, as well as a dynamic panel led by the Monterey Institute’s Jason Scorse. All proceeds will go to HGP. Tickets are going fast; buy yours before they sell out by clicking here.
If all goes well with the city this fall, HGP will be able to begin making plans to relocate to a permanent home on a nine-acre parcel in the Pogonip that was earmarked for the organization in the City of Santa Cruz 1998 Master Plan. The move would be sure to bring the same kind of stability to HGP that the organization has so long strived to help its clients achieve.
Since its founding in 1990, HGP has used sustainable farming as a means to alleviate homelessness and provide a safe transitional environment for people in the Santa Cruz community in need.
In a county with five times the national rate of homelessness, the Project’s work is especially important.
“In some ways I think of homelessness as a disease of the community more than of the individual,” says Darrie Ganzhorn, Executive Director, “and working at the project for so long, I know that there are so many community members that want to do something about homelessness and are grateful for a really tangible opportunity to do something about it.” Last year, 1,500 people volunteered at the Homeless Garden Project, amounting to over 16,000 hours of donated time.
The Project aims to prepare people to re-enter the workforce by providing transitional employment, advocacy, and access to resources. Comments Ganzhorn, “The Project takes people in and helps them to meet any challenges that they may have before they can get into the work world. It could be someone is camping and while they’re with us they get into housing with support services, so then they’ve got a place where all their things are collected and they’re not just focusing on survival. Then they can start going to work everyday and gain a lot of confidence. It’s really easy to underestimate the importance of hope and of confidence.” Social work interns volunteering with the Project often attend appointments and meetings with trainees to help them understand their options and stay on track. Additionally, interns help trainees create step-by-step plans for their lives after the Homeless Garden Project in order to stay out of homelessness.
All programs are linked back to the farm. “The farm itself provides a lot of healing,” says Ganzhorn, “and as that healing is taking place, people are getting more hopeful and confident. As people are becoming more hopeful, their goals are starting seem more doable and they’re more engaged and ready to take some steps.” The food produced by the farm goes to a CSA program, which currently has around 70 recipients including organizations for low-income people like the Santa Cruz AIDS Project, Women’s Crisis Support, and the River Street Shelter. Additionally, those working on the farm enjoy a lunch together produced by their own labor. “There’s a lot of community created around those tables at lunchtime,” says Ganzhorn, “especially after working together. There’s a really nice erasing of class.” Recreating community is a big component of the Project’s curriculum, acting as a support network for the trainees while they progress back into the workforce.
HGP’s current site at Natural Bridges is owned by the City, and the chance to create a home for itself at Pogonip could transformative.
“You can imagine the things we could do on a permanent site, since we’re a farm, that we can’t do on a temporary one. Just think about fruit trees and nut trees, which we’ve never done here,” Ganzhorn says. “If you read some of our heroes in the sustainable agriculture movement, they talk so much about knowing the piece of land you’re working.” Soon, HGP’s trainees, volunteers and staff hope, they will be getting deeply acquainted with the soil of Pogonip.
Tickets for the Oct. 5 farm dinner are $75 and will sell out. For more information or to purchase yours, go to: https://ediblemontereybay.com/edibleevents/edible-monterey-bay-events/.