An organization called Greenleaf announced recently that it was going to offer horticultural therapy to disabled and displaced veterans in some garden space on South Calhoun Street now owned by an outfit called Blue Jacket.
What caught my attention was the Blue Jacket angle. It started out in a little building near South Side High School, working with people who had felony convictions. It would put them through training designed to teach them how the real world works and how to find and keep a job. Then it would find them jobs.
Blue Jacket didn’t mess around, either. If you were late once, you were done.
Blue Jacket later moved to South Calhoun Street, where the horticulture therapy would be offered.
Blue Jacket, though, doesn’t really have anything to do with horticulture. It just happens to occupy a building where a woman named Holly Chaille once worked with another organization that used the gardens. But that organization, and Chaille, moved on.
So Blue Jacket clients and employees gardened for a while, but eventually they ran out of manpower and stopped.
Then Chaille, who was trained in horticulture therapy at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, started Greenleaf. She needed two things – garden space and veterans. And what should happen to be right across the street from what is now Blue Jacket’s garden space? Liberty Landing, a center for veterans.
It seems fate has decreed that Chaille run a gardening program on South Calhoun.
But I was a little fuzzy. Greenleaf was talking about horticultural vocational training and possible job placement.
I’m not a master gardener, but I’ve read that gardening is actually good for you. People who garden, I read somewhere, live longer.
I have gardened. There’s something a little mystical about it. You put a seed the size of a piece of dandruff in the ground, and it turns into a plant that you can eat. It is rewarding.
But what is this job placement stuff? Can gardening really get you a job?
Well, Chaille told me, the whole purpose of the program is to focus on garden work to relieve pain, ease emotional trauma, interact socially and improve your sense of self-worth.
And growing food, enough to help someone who needs it or even sell at a farmers market, can accomplish that.
But it’s not just planting seeds and walking away. The nine-month program involved learning to read seed catalogs, design a garden, start seed trays indoors, collect and save seeds and even grow flowers.
If you know how to do that, there are plenty of opportunities, with lawn and landscaping businesses, greenhouses, home improvement stores.
That hadn’t occurred to me. Someone does have to grow all those tomato starts and broccoli starts and flower starts, the thousands and thousands of them you see each spring in garden shops all over the city, the ones that even I buy every year.
Chaille says the program, once it gets going, will accept about 15 veterans to work the 36 raised beds that are 3- by 12-feet each.
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Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.