By Kayli Plotner, RRStar Staff Writer

Thursday, September 29, 2016

More Time To Grow

Hoop houses help Blackhawk Courts farming initiative


Rockford – Three years ago Ken Yatte Moore was unemployed and rarely ate vegetables, but a community garden helped him change both.

Today, Moore, now 40 pounds lighter, works full-time managing the Blackhawk Courts Farms and Garden.

“My Job is to grow the food and do the basic upkeep for the farm”, Moore said. “Everything from planting, transplanting, watering, weeding, pest control, making sure that we use all natural fertilizers and all natural pesticides.  This is my first year running the farm by myself. I was nervous at first, but we did well.”


A new project launched Tuesday will soon produce a crop nearly year-round for the garden.

Blackhawk Farms and garden began more than five years ago, as partnership between Angelic Organics, Zion Outreach and the Rockford Housing Authority. Directors and volunteers were on site Tuesday to begin assembly of two, 70-by 30-foot hoop houses – greenhouse structures consisting of PVC pipe and polyethylene cover. The house will supplement the existing farm, increasing the growing season from 10 weeks to 40.

Tom Spaulding, executive director of Angelic Organics Learning Center, said the farm is a fully operational organic vegetable farm business. The farm is operated by residents of the housing community, and its produce is available to them at all times.  Produce from the farm also is sold at Community Supported Agriculture stands, or CSA’s, which are farm stands with produce specifically grown for the community, by the community. People can buy produce with cash, credit and debit cards or their SNAP cards.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) helps low income families buy healthy foods.

“The participants are getting, growing and eating good food, and they’re also getting job and life-skill training,” Spaulding said.

The training initiative, called the Roots & Wings Youth Leadership and Urban Agriculture Program, teaches participants nutrition, cooking, how to grow food, harvest it, store it and preserve it. This year the program brought an average of 70 adults to its workshops and 60 to 80 volunteer youth gardeners.

The workshop and farm are run by six adult apprentices, and 11 youth leaders. Youth and adult apprentices are paid hourly for their work, and youth leaders are paid a stipend. The program also added a team of 10 adults and youth leaders to help build the hoop house. These positions were also paid.

Moore started as an apprentice before working his way up to farm manager.

“ I was doing volunteer work at the Blackhawk Buddy House, so I could earn volunteer hours for living out here”,  Moore said. “Miss Ruth and Miss Janice, they liked the way that I was able to work with the kids and they saw me as a leader, so they offered me a job.”

The Blackhawk Buddy House is an extension of Zion Outreach, a mission program through Zion Lutheran Church.

Janice Forrest, along with outreach director Ruth Fairchild, manages the Buddy House in hopes of providing a safe haven in times of need. kids“Sometimes the kids will come to me and say, ‘Miss Janice I ‘m hungry,’ and we come here and I feed them. I have clothes for all different sizes of kids. When things go wrong and they don’t feel safe, or they just want to talk, they know they can come here.” Six years ago Zion Outreach began partnering with Angelic Organics, and installed 10 raised beds to grow vegetables in the middle of the housing community.  Forrest said the goal was to ensure the health of the children in the community.

“Sometimes, for whatever reason, the parents weren’t able to fix dinner for the kids,” Forrest said. “So the raised beds were here to make sure the kids could eat.”with-the-signs

Once it was clear the garden beds were being used, the project was expanded to a field adjacent to the housing complex, and Blackhawk Farms began.

“It has impacted the community so much,” Forrest said. “The woman will call me and ask, ‘How do you fix this, eggplant Parmesan, because we need to eat and don’t have any food until next week? Miss Janice sent us some recipes so we can cook and feed our family, ‘and to be healthy.”

Funding for the farm comes primarily from Rockford Housing Authority’s federal grants. The hoop houses are part of the five year expansion project, estimated to cost $90,000.

“We have a long-term financial interest in this project, both in making sure that we continue to see amazing projects like this sprout up on our facilities, but also being a part of an urban farming movement nationally,” said Amanda Hamaker, Chief Operating Officer for the Housing Authority.  “We have been extremely interested in seeing this particular facility grow and become a demonstration area for our community.”

Being a good example for the community is what adult apprentice Anita Henderson takes pride in most.

“We do it all for our community,” Henderson said. “It’s not about us; it’s about helping somebody else. They see us working, to make it better for our young generations.”img_9523

The hoop houses are expected to be assembled by the end of the week, and planting inside will begin soon thereafter.

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