Updated: Nov 6
Kelly, a woman who experienced homelessness, tells her story about how she found the Wasatch Community Gardens Green Phoenix Farm, and how the farm lifted her spirits and enabled her to transform and redirect her life. The interview covers how she adjusted to farming work, what she learned, how she was supported, and how she feels about life now. She explains the program and how the staff members supported her.
“When I was a child, I was raised on a farm of 120 acres in West Virginia. So, I recalled that anything wasn’t hard to do. I thought farming was easy. Plus, I like vegetables. May as well learn how to do it myself.”
“And believe it or not, there’s something about working in the soil that keeps you more grounded and makes you more mellow… Plus, if you think about it, it is like anything we grow on the farm. If you are working with the soil and the plants, then you are growing right alongside them.”
“So it is an ongoing relationship. So once you are part of the program, you are part of the “farmily”.
“At the end of the day you are tired, but it is a good tired…. Got to figure, another day, another dollar. You will sleep better. Plus, you are outside. Air does amazing things for you. It’s a healthy lifestyle… between the food, and the air, and the exercise….Like I said, it is a very well-rounded program; it’s a great experience. The farm has been the means for my employment, my wellbeing, my health. I’ve gotten healthier since I’ve worked here.”
“Success is all he (the farm director) cares about. Just like the plants, he wants to nurture the people just like they were plants which are a part of the farm. He’s amazing. He’s looking for their success. He wants to nurture each person, just like his plants.”
Transcription of 30-minute Interview
I’m sitting here with K, a participant of the Green Team (a program of Wasatch Community Gardens) for 3 and a half years. I’d like to capture her story; how the farm has impacted her. Where she was. How she found the farm? What was her first response to working in a farm situation? How the farm started changing the way she saw things and helping her get to where she is now. That’s a lot of information..
I can tell it to you quickly.
So you chose to be on the streets because she wanted to get out of an abusive relationship.
DECIDING TO CHANGE
Early on I was in an abusive situation with someone addicted to drugs. Rather than live that very difficult life, It was better to be out of it. And instead of being on the streets... Everything coincided, because like I said, I hadn’t worked for twenty years. Everything kind of coincided. I got into the shelter. They can only help you with certain things. Like I got on a list for housing. If you don’t want to do anything, you are not going do anything. A lot of them just lay around. And I did not want to do that. That was not going to improve my situation or make it any better. I couldn’t progress into the world and be a normal type of person and progress into society.
FINDING THE JOB
So, I met a friend Lynette. She said, “Maybe you should work with me.” Plus, I got along really good with the women there at the shelter and like a lot of the staff. There were a couple of people on the staff that said, “K you would be really good working at the desk, but you can’t be residing in the shelter and working here, too.” But, there was a little side door that you could go into… which was I could go over to Advantage and apply as long as I was six months out of the shelter as long as I had two or three supervisors to give me a referral.
With that and going to Advantage they part-time jobs at the shelter at the desk. Then you could apply for that job with some credential - No .
I had a good rapport, and they thought that I would be really perfect for that position. There were 2 supervisors and 3 staff members that I would be a perfect front-desk person working with the women, checking them in, if they needed to make phone calls. need for hygiene or clothing in the back..
There were fights that would break out - they would call security and staff - By the time they came up there...They’d hear me yelling - and they’d all calm down by they got there.
I was just there a couple of weeks when I got to know Lynette. You are really compatible with people - understanding, really empathetic with them. So I had a good rapport with the staff and the people.
So I had it in pretty good with them. And then I met the girl that worked here… and
Everything seemed to fall in place for me. Boom, boom, boom.
She said, “Go to Advantage and apply.”
That same week there was a job fair at the Wigends center in Salt Lake- go apply for a job
So one day I got up, and I said I am done living this life, too - just laying around this shelter.. At that time you can only have your bed for 30 days - then have to move out and to get another bed
I don’t want to do this: I want to get into the real world. So I went over to the job fair. They had several different companies there. They had a table for Advantage but no one was there… This is why I say Miracles really do happen. I wanted to talk to the people at Advantage… Over my shoulder I heard, “Are you interested in employment with Advantage?” - it was some lady
She said come with me -She happened to be working with DWS, the Department of Workforce Services. She happened to be walking through there and overheard me. We went upstairs, “come with me... here’s the application - start filling it out. You want to work?” “Yes!” She asked, “Are you particular about your hours?” I answered, “Daytime would be good.”
GETTING THE JOB
So I am filling it out and she gets on the phone and calls Camille. “I have a girl working here that would be interested in working. - do you need girls for the Green Team? Camile said, Yes! Have you heard about the Green Team? Yes, I have a friend that works there. I wouldn’t mind doing that at all. I was still filling out the application. She picked up the phone again and Called over to Megan at Advantage … I have a girl here to work on the farm.
She wants a job. What do you think? Do you want a job? Yes! Will you come to work? Yes, I would be glad to work. Two days later I was at Advantage to fill out their paperwork. Then the next day, I came over here. Hi James, I just came to work with you. I was at the farm - talked with James. The farm had been operating for over a year. Part of the second crew to work on the farm. I came in April - 2nd season of the farm.
I came to James on Friday. Are you ready to get to work today? No, I need clothes… Went to get clothes. I was there the following Monday - and I’ve been here ever since. It was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… each week.
At the end of the year they lay the girls off because they have to find another job… James came to me and said, “Come here, I want to tell you about something..”…. I thought I was in trouble.
BECOMING A GROW LEAD
“K, I was thinking that you might want to come back as a team lead - more hours, more flexible. It will be an increase in your pay. So, since the second year, I’ve been a lead.
Having not worked for 20 years, being in this family shelter for a couple months and then starting to work in April… This must have been a shock to your system. What type of work did you do? Were you exhausted at the end of the day? How did you manage all this?
ADJUSTING TO FARM WORK
I had it easy - usually had to do all the applications. I skipped all that.
It was. It’s hard every year when we come back. The first couple of weeks are hard getting adjusted. But then you’re fine. I got used to it real quick.
How did it go establishing a rapport with the team?
I never had a problem establishing a rapport with the team.
The first year there was only 4 or 5. Just 2 leads. We started out 6 to 8. Some don’t work out.
By the time we finished, we ended with 2 or 3 by the end of the season.
Why farming? You could have done other jobs -you could have been a cashier. Anything about farming that you really took to?
BENEFITS OF FARMING
When I was a child, I was raised on a farm - 120 acres in West Virginia. So, I recalled that anything wasn’t hard to do. I thought farming was easy. Plus, I like vegetables. May as well learn how to do it myself.
Believe you me..I’ve learned a lot since I’ve started working here. When you’re learning, watching, get to put baby plants out… the fruits of your labor - the vegetables - until you get to eat them. So the whole program is how you get readjusted and get used to a working routine. They also teach you how to eat different things, different ways of cooking the food you grow. They also help you with your self-esteem.
When I was at the shelter, they helped me with housing, furniture. and clothing. But I got extra resources. You get an income because you have to have a real place to live. I had my own income. I had saved up my own money so I could move in. No problem. I got lucky there. Everything has fallen into place for me.
I was at the shelter at the time that I was working here. One of the ladies was over beds and supervising. Her name was Hannah. She got to know us girls over here. K, I have the perfect thing for you. She brought the paperwork and took me to her office. She said, “Something just came up and I snagged it because I thought of you.” This was for a different person, they have certain apartments around the city. They have so many set aside for homeless people, which you are. It’s nice to take people out of that homeless situation. They prefer people who have lived at the shelter.
They heard me yelling… Oh, that’s just K. There was one lady… you can’t get upset. Had cerebral palsy. Thank you K for handling that. We like you K. We know you are a good person here.
I worked from April to November… When did you really start to feel like “I am liking my job?” This year… or maybe the end of last year. I decided I really, really like this. I prefer this job. I’ll do anything to keep my apartment, especially with the Corona Virus going around, I’ll do whatever it takes. I want to keep my apartment and my job.
Looking at women facing homelessness, what would you advise? Where does this farm fit in terms of their next steps in life? Was this an important step or a job that just helped you?
ADVICE FOR OTHERS FACING HOMELESSNESS
No, I think it is very important. Not only do they get you ready for interviews. They help you with clothes for the interviews. They do mock interviews. They help you complete applications and prepare resumes. You take aptitude tests to know what knowledge you have and what you would like to do what jobs you would be fit for. This place does more than just employ you and pay you for employment. It ensures that you have good self-esteem, that you are aware of things that you can do and your possibilities. Plus, I have a hard time wording things when I am doing my resume….
So you basically have a coach guiding you… Yes! I have a coach to coach me in everything you can think of. This is such a great place. If anyone is facing homelessness, I would tell them because it helps you every step of the way in more ways than just your employment. They help you in all ways - your wellbeing and your learning… and coping skills, problem-solving, conflict solving.
How does work get done on a farm when you are in class?
They have a couple of days of the week when you have classes. Plus, there is also the director and his assistant, Susie has a lot of resources. She is over the girls and Courtney is more like your self-esteem, your mental. Together, they work hand in hand to ensure that you are a well-rounded person. There is nothing you do here that is too hard or demanding physically on you. If you come here during the winter, we make sure to get you the clothing you need. And that you don’t overdo it and get burnt out. They do the same thing in the summer to make sure you don’t overwork. Prepare you to be a well-rounded person to be successful going back into society.
They know everyone has her own story. They don’t want you to quit. James has never fired anybody ever. He just gives and gives - and gives too many chances. But that is what this program is… when you come in with your rough edges to make you blossom as this beautiful flower… so you can survive out there - in every step of the way in everything you can think of.
Have you seen other women come from an abusive situation? Have you seen them reach a certain level of stability?….
Kelly: Not while they are in those situations… Here at the farm, what is it that helps somebody come to a stable point and to be able to then chose where they want to go with their lives.
EFFECTS OF WORKING WITH THE SOIL
I think it is because we have a program that will work with you. And believe it or not, there’s something about working in the soil that keeps you more grounded and makes you more mellow… Plus, if you think about it, it is like anything we grow on the farm. If you are working with the soil and the plants, then you are growing right alongside them.
And where does the food go? How is your engagement with the people it goes to helped you in your healing?
OUR FOOD FEEDS THE COMMUNITY
It helps you to get along with people outside your little circle. Like when I was working with people at the shelter. But it helps you when you get out into the real world, it helps you communicate and work well with others- all different types of people. Just like the people here- they all have their story, their background and their little issues. You just… it makes it so that you want to interact with others. You are more friendly… because it’s so much fun here…
FUN WITH EDUCATION
And all the supervisors that run the different places make things fun, plus James, he does one on one time with girls. He is always teaching you stuff. At the start of the season, you don’t know stuff...but, by the time you are at the end of the season, you feel really confident- you’ve learned things. . And Courtney and Susie have taught you…To interact to the world, and take these things that you have learned - and interact in the real world outside this program. I don’t think I can say enough about this place.
This will be your 4th year? Do you keep in touch with the women that have worked here?
GROWING CONNECTIONS - A “FARMILY”
A lot of them come back… because once you’ve come here, you can come back any time you need help with something.
If you need to work here for a little bit, James will let you come back.
If you need food anytime; If I need a house.. and I have a property that I want to
start my own garden, James will give me compost and plants and seeds - and the knowledge I need.
So it is an ongoing relationship. So once you are part of the program, you are part of the “farmily”. They just started doing the “farmily dinner”.
It’s the farmily
They also have at the end of the year, we have a little party…a celebration that you’ve been through the program. And they send out invitations to the people that used to work here too. They come back at the end of the year for a BBQ.
So that connection, once you were on the streets, and now you have that connection, this whole community is a network. You get to know these people. Networking is what we call it.
A network - WCG staff - get to know of new opportunities… Plus, they have Feelers out for there for other jobs.. She has resources to other jobs and people out there.
Courtney, Camile, Susie - all are helping.
There are even some companies come right to the farm because of their successes.
Justin from Downtown Ambassodor
Because of your life’s experience - you can relate to people
Camile works with People Helping People…a more advanced program for women getting out of this program -- trying to network. These women have been in abuse situations - - all women helping people have their own businesses now. She knows people that have had big successes. If we want a job, we can go over there, and they will recommend us.
There’s a lot of places that just want to hire us, because of our life experience.
What is the hardest part of the job? What are the difficulties - being realistic about this?
The weather…..cold... but I am getting used to it. Over the winter - Even though we are not farming, we still have the fish and the chickens to take care of….The plants need to be covered with hoops and checked. Plus, we need clean-up that doesn’t get done during the year, has to be done before the start of the new year. - Anything that has to do with the plant sale.
Clean the kitchen and all the processing stuff. The locker room… We get their pouches and Set up all the supplies for the girls that are coming. Those are some of the things that us leads do.
OTHER JOB BENEFITS
At the end of the day you are tired, but it is a good tired…. Got to figure, another day, another dollar. You will sleep better. Plus you are outside. Air does amazing things for you. It’s a health lifestyle… between the food, and the air, and the exercise….Like I said, it is a very well-rounded program. There are some things out there aren’t working with people. It’s a great experience.
The farm has been the means for my employment, my wellbeing, my health. I’ve gotten healthier since I’ve worked here.
Some jobs can only miss one day after 60 days, This place they understand that when you are coming off the streets you have doctors appointments or housing appointments… or things like that. …. You need time to make your appointments. They will work with you on that. You won’t be fired if you have to take a week off. You won’t get fired. When I got my new apartment, they let me take a week off to let me stabilize. And he had no problem with that.
Partly because of having a great boss - - who understands and is knowledgeable. When you make a mistake, he won’t jump all over you. Hey, this was a mistake, but he does it in a way..
Just the way he talks, you just want to do better. Hah, Hah, I’m doing better now. How do you feel now, James? I’ve got a good rapport with James.
STAFF MEMBERS ARE THERE TO SUPPORT YOU
This program is something that he helped to start. Every one of us that leaves every year and gets a better job, a better life - because it’s a program, that’s an at-a-boy for him. He loves people. He wants to see them succeed. Succeed is all he cares about. If point A is where you start and point B is where you leave, whatever trials and tribulations you have, he’s there to help you with them.
Between Susie, Courtney, and him, they’ll help you with everything. I can’t say forgiving, but understanding and he is willing to work with you…. And not give up on you. Nope, he didn’t give up on anyone of us.
I heard someone say they were ready to give up on themselves.
I was going to give up on myself, but he won’t. There have been some women that say, “I can’t do this!” Then he will say, “How about this? Take a few days off, maybe a week off, reset, and let’s try again. We’ll try something different. Different hours, less hours, start out slower. He’s amazing..
You can work less hours… He will work with you. There aren’t a lot of supervisors that would do that. He didn’t know he liked to farm until he got this job. He hadn’t done anything like this before. He’s male, and he’s working with nothing but females mostly. Success is all he cares about. Just like the plants, he wants to nurture the people just like they were plants a part of the farm. He’s amazing. He’s looking for their success. He wants to nurture each person, just like his plants.
You have to realize it is not you; it is them. Because you.. You just have to... It’s hard.
Thank you, Kelly!