Young Adults Plant Seeds of Their Futures by Tending Garden

Updated: 07/06/2013 10:47 AM By: Beth McDonough

On any given night, an estimated 2,500 young adults are homeless in Minnesota.

Even on a holiday, like this in the summertime, according to Wilder Research.

There is a unique program in Minneapolis that's breaking ground.  It gives some of those folks, not only a place to live, but the chance to cultivate life skills by tending to a community garden.

Chris Dykes now has a roof over his head and a garden under his feet.  In so many ways, the combination is a life-saver.  He's fresh out of the foster system, "I was kind of scared to live on my own at first, it’s new to me."

At 19-years-old, he's barely an adult and not grown up enough to tackle life by himself.  That's where Nicollet Square Housing Complex in South Minneapolis makes a difference.  It's for young adults who are fosters or homeless.  

"Really being able to honor that while at the same time teach skills to help them move beyond those things, move beyond the trauma," said Jane King of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, which owns the facility.

Residents get a small apartment at minimal rent $200 a month.  Plus, therapy to heal from the wear and tear of life, learn how to manage money, enroll in college and go through employment counseling.  
Outside the building, they plant the seeds of their futures, "It helps you reach out to the community and get people thinking about eating health foods," said Dykes.

Classes are held around the new community garden.  Dykes studies how to grow and care for various veggies, fruits and herbs.  He learns about home-grown nutrition.  

That matters, because Dykes wants to own a restaurant and a sustainable garden one day, "It'll be cheaper for me to make food and it'll be cheaper on other people because I can reduce prices."
That's know-how he's practicing next door where he works at Butter Bakery.  The owner is a former teacher. "I have a heart for kids, especially kids that need a little extra touch to help them get to the next place," says Dan Swenson-Klat, who owns Butter Bakery.

The on-the-job training is taking root for residents of Nicollet Square.  All the ingredients here come from local farms.  Dykes understands as his crop flourishes, so could his future. "Growing things, putting your hands in the dirt, getting a little messy at times, gets you something in the end and you can take that anywhere," said Swenson-Klat.

In fact, Chris Dykes won a scholarship to start school this fall in culinary studies at the Art Institute International.

A grant from Wells Fargo Community Funding helped cover the cost of starting the Nicollet Square Garden.  Because housing for homeless youth is so scarce in Ramsey County too, Beacon Interfaith Collaborative, which owns Nicollet Square, is proposing a 44-unit complex modeled after Nicollet Square. 

It's scheduled to open in 2014.