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Jun 06.27

The Homeless Garden Project: Rebuilding Dignity, Resume and Character

Posted In: Charity Pot

We're thrilled to have Darrie Ganzhorn from the Homeless Garden Project join the LUSH Blog to share the incredible work that HGP has growing on! The Homeless Garden Project has been a Charity Pot partner since 2009.

 Growing Hope

“I’ve achieved a reconnection to my real self, reestablished my creative side, embraced my natural abilities and nourished my self esteem. In a sense, I’ve been reborn.”

“I’m now living indoors. I’m renting a room in a house, as of January 2013.”

“I started a second job at a nonprofit in March 2012.”

These statements are from participants in the job training and transitional employment program at the Homeless Garden Project (HGP). In addition to job training and transitional employment, HGP provides support services and operates a vibrant community education and volunteer program. All of our programs take place in a 3-acre organic farm and related enterprises.

The Homeless Garden Project began in 1990 as a peaceful refuge for those living on the streets in Santa Cruz County. The Project quickly evolved into a center for community activity, providing homeless individuals with services including counseling, training, and a paid jobs program. Since our beginning, over 350 people have participated in our training and transitional employment program. Each year, HGP invests deeply in a group of about fifteen trainees for our Transitional Jobs program.

As a complement, HGP has broader community impact through:

Our community education and volunteer program (served 1500 people in 2012) 

“Feed Two Birds with One Worm” fund (which provides weekly organic produce to 7 agencies that serve low-income people, a nearly $12,000 value) 

Providing organic produce to "food-insecure" patients of Santa Cruz Women's Health Center through a voucher program

In our beautiful hometown of Santa Cruz, California, it’s estimated that 9000 people will be homeless in a year. Among these people, job loss is the highest cited cause of homelessness. The numbers are daunting. Yet each year, HGP provides opportunities for a small group of individuals—our trainees--to build a path out of homelessness and return to a stable, productive place in our community. At the same time, community members working side by side with our trainees learn about the humanity, potential and challenges our trainees face in their lives. Community members concerned about homelessness have an opportunity to do something very tangible while also learning about sustainable agriculture and belonging to a very positive and solution oriented movement.

The beauty of the HGP is that many fields and disciplines that are traditionally separate come together for one synergistic powerful solution. Our programs operate at the intersection of urban agriculture, therapeutic horticulture, transitional jobs, homeless services and social enterprise.

During the growing season, trainees work and are paid minimum wage for 20 hours/week, Tuesday through Friday, 9-2. Wages are invaluable; as our partners at National Transitional Jobs Network say, “Linking individuals with stable earned income is a critical tool in the fight to end homelessness & can improve personal & financial stability. Income from work improves access to food, clothing, housing and health care.” Through Charity Pot, LUSH has generously supported one trainee’s wages for an entire year! In 2009, LUSH’s Tricia Stevens contacted HGP to begin a partnership through the Charity Pot initiative. Since then, LUSH has contributed more than $27,000 to support trainee wages and the “Feed Two Birds with One Worm” program.

The work week structure includes a weekly “circle” meeting and a lecture on topics ranging from Soil to Resumes. The work of the farm falls into a rhythm, especially during harvest season when we harvest every Tuesday and Friday. While providing structure, the program is flexible enough to build on strengths of trainees coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, skill levels & work histories. Rules reinforce basic workplace competencies & standards.

Our Tuesday harvests are particularly meaningful to all of us at HGP—these harvests are for our “Feed Two Birds with One Worm Program.” Each year, many of our donors contribute to our Feed Two Birds Fund—including LUSH Charity Pot—which supports distribution of “shares” of HGP’s produce each week during the 23 week harvest season to agencies serving low-income people. These donations get high quality, nutritionally dense, organic food to people who need it the most. And why “Feed Two Birds”? The income from sales of “shares” gets reinvested in our training program.

Through the regular responsibilities at HGP—coupled with support services, a tightly-knit community and a small income—our trainees have experienced numerous meaningful changes. They have transitioned into an unsubsidized job, secured housing, reconnected with family, maintained sobriety & improved mental health, attended school, married, resolved legal issues, assumed increased responsibility at work, overcome bad credit, & accessed disability benefits.

I’ll close with this letter we received regarding one of our trainees. This is what it’s all about:


I met my husband, Eugene, right before he became homeless. Because I believed in him, I continued seeing him after he became homeless. He looked for work but couldn’t find it. The economy was horrible, and his own past mistakes lead him to this desperate place.

He is a person with a brilliant sense of humor, gratitude for whatever he’s given, and respect for others. Unfortunately life threw him many challenges early on and he needed some time to catch up with the rest of the working force. There aren’t a lot of people with compassion, much less a place for people who are disadvantaged to go and feel accepted, part of the team, and valued as individuals.

Eugene found The Homeless Garden Project as a last chance. When someone finally hits rock bottom and reaches out for help and can’t find it, it has to be miserable.

People who find The Homeless Garden Project want to work. They want to improve their lives; they want that last chance to change. We all know sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to finally want to change. This happened for Eugene. He stayed at the Project for one and one-half years, carefully rebuilding his dignity, resume and character. And also constantly looked for more work.

Finally he found a job at a hotel and has been there for a year now with no problem. We married this past December. I believe in Eugene. The HGP believed in Eugene, and the people who help fund HGP believe in others like Eugene. We all want people to improve themselves, society, and our city.

We all want to help people without homes...

Homeless Garden Project has a great vision for the future—the Project is working with the City of Santa Cruz to get final approvals for a 12-acre permanent site on Pogonip, a beautiful 614-acre greenbelt. HGP’s goal is to serve 30 trainees each year at Pogonip, and ultimately 50 trainees each year as the Project’s community support and enterprises develop.

If you’d like to know more about HGP’s work, there are many ways! Check out our website and sign up to receive our email updates. You can also read our blog and find us on Facebook.

How you can help and get involved:

Donate to support our ongoing programs! Your donation really counts. More than half of our income comes from donations from individuals. Or, you can shop at our online store.

 Darrie Ganzhorn

Darrie Ganzhorn is the Executive Director of the Homeless Garden Project. Darrie supervises the direction and day-to-day operations of a five member staff and has primary responsibility for vision and planning, fundraising, program direction, financial and staff management, public relations and staff support of HGP Board of Directors. Darrie has been with the Homeless Garden Project since 1991 when she began working one-on-one with Project trainees to help them identify and monitor their goals to move out of homelessness. HGP is a passion if not an obsession for Darrie, tempered only by reading and walks, especially at Santa Cruz’ oceanside. Darrie is a graduate of UC Berkeley (Biology) and the 2009/2010 Leadership Education and Development Institute; Darrie participated in National Transitional Jobs Network’s Working to End Homelessness: National Community of Practice. Darrie is the mother of two grown children, and has one adorable grandson, Milo.