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RSDP Happenings - Focus on Growing Home

February 2015

By Ronnie Schwenn

Focus on Growing Home

Growing Home participants work on a garden. (Photo: Rochester Public Schools)

Growing Home's work is pretty nitty-gritty and down-in-the-dirt. Literally. It is building upon a successful program at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center that has provided gardening opportunities for homeless and at-risk youth and is now moving into the composting business in partnership with Olmsted County.

But there is also a lofty aspiration for Growing Home: it seeks to "ground" these youth within their community by providing them a connection with the food they eat, real job skills and ultimately housing. The program is modeled on Growing Power, a Milwaukee organization that employs at-risk youth for sustainable gardening and composting work.

With the help of Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (SERSDP) and many others in the community, Growing Home is ramping up its work this winter, having recently received its official 501c3 non-profit status and a workforce development grant worth up to $45,000.

Erin Meier, executive director of SERSDP, says that the group is excited to have been awarded the grant, which was somewhat unexpected. The money will be put toward Growing Home's current workforce project, which will hire students from Rochester's Alternative Learning Center to help bag and sell compost provided by the county's solid waste program, providing a modest revenue stream for Growing Home.

"We wanted there to be something that people in the community can engage with positively," said Meier. The directors of Growing Home are also hoping that the grant will help get the word out about what the project is trying to do and cement its place in the community. The group is currently collaborating with the Alternative Learning Center to use hoop houses on the school's property.

Growing Home currently has permission to use a small quonset hut on the grounds of Olmsted County's Waste-to-Energy facility, which is where they hope to expand their gardening operations. Olmsted County department and division heads, including those from Facilities, Adult & Family Services and Environmental Resources, have lent their expertise and time to help move the project along.

RSDP was able to provide support by funding a U of M-Rochester business specialist to help write Growing Home's business plan, as well as look at their revenue stream and grant options. Erin Meier also sits on Growing Home's board, along with SERSDP Chair Bob Cline. With the boost from their new non-profit status and the recent grant, Growing Home is looking to grow its mentorship and workforce training programs and explore new revenue streams that will help the organization become a more permanent fixture in the Rochester Community.

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