If you’ve been downtown recently, you may have noticed the bright new Homeless Garden Project store front on Pacific Ave between O’Neill’s & Verizon (110 Cooper Street).  If so, you might also have wondered whether there is an actual garden, how it works, and exactly what it is they cultivate there. Plagued by such questions, I dropped in to pay a visit and spoke with director Darrie Ganzhorn to get the scoop.

Holiday Giving with the Homeless Garden ProjectAs it turns out, the Homeless Garden project is a bountiful 2.5 acre organic farm and garden located near Natural Bridges.  The program was conceived in 1990 as an alternative for providing job training and transitional employment for homeless people in a supportive, therapeutic environment.

The HGP Natural Bridges Farm grows organic produce and fresh flowers for the Homeless Garden CSA, feeds program participants and sells the surplus to local restaurants. The farm also houses the Homeless Gardens Edible Plants Nursery designed to teach specialized horticultural and greenhouse operations experience to participants.  Another of their programs, the Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise teaches participants to create beautiful dried floral arrangements from farm-grown botanicals to sell at the store.

In the 21 years since its inception, the HGP has provided more than 800 people with transitional employment and job training, and has taught more than 500 members of our community the ins and outs of organic farming.  The Homeless Garden Project actually launched the very first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Santa Cruz county in 1992.  Today the HGP runs some amazing programs that not only help the homeless, but benefit the greater community as well.

In supporting the Homeless Garden Project through the store, by donations or as a member of the CSA, you directly support these programs that give back so generously to our community.

So back to the store.  The Homeless Garden Holiday Store is open every day from 10-8pm and features products made in the training program from herbs and flowers to dried flower wreaths, hand dipped beeswax candles, homemade herb vinegars, lavender shortbread and herb biscuit mixes and much more!   Stop by!

For more information about the Homeless Garden Project and how to get involved, visit: www.homelessgardenproject.org.