Carolyn Day’s Growing Hope Gardens Goes from Strength to Strength

By Claire Fordham

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Carolyn Day’s Growing Hope Gardens  Goes from Strength to Strength
Photo courtesy Catherine Bernier Master gardener Carolyn Day founder of Growing Hope Gardens.
When Topanga’s master gardener Carolyn Day founded Growing Hope Gardens in 2019, her aim was to bring the joy of gardening and connecting with the soil to impoverished people. Seeing a need for healthy food options, Day began teaching residents how to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs. Day’s first garden project, SaMoSHel (SAnta MOnica SHELter) in Santa Monica, is now one of 11 resident gardens that Growing Hope Gardens successfully sustains at nine homeless shelters on the south and west sides of LA. “It’s in underserved communities where we see the highest rates of hunger, diabetes and other negative health outcomes. Growing your own food is empowering for us all,” said Day. By the end of 2023, Day plans to open 20 more gardens locally and a farm. “We’re excited to be launching our first urban farm in Santa Monica that will become a garden space between two affordable housing resident communities and be the work hub supplying all our gardens,” she said. LA County has funded a shed, nursery tables and chairs for the urban farm. “We are creating gardens where people can walk out of their front door and harvest kale and thyme to add to their soup for supper. We can all benefit from growing our own fruits and vegetables as climate change disrupts agriculture.” When Day finds a community that would benefit from Growing Hope Gardens’ support, she walks the property looking for the most cost-efficient way to grow produce. “The dream is to find ornamental planters then I jump on that excellent infrastructure and propose converting the plants to edible ones. The $500 they spend on ornamental plants can be used to feed residents and their neighbors,” she says. The gardens also provide a beautiful space for residents to gather and socialize—and even to meet with their doctors and social workers. “Social workers told me they couldn’t get clients to come to their offices for appointments but would happily meet in the garden. They said I’m tapping into something they can’t. Gardens are a great equalizer. I remember being hungry and unhoused, how unwelcome I felt everywhere,” says Day. “My brother was in foster care, my parents were nowhere. I was on the Canadian gymnastics team and a straight A student. I skipped two grades and was in college at 17 when I became homeless. I know it can happen to anyone because it happened to me. “I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I thought I wasn’t as good as other kids and that prevented me from asking for help. I sometimes stole food I was so hungry. At college I would finish my friends’ plates after I offered to take them to the trash. Whether you are housed or not, every human has an innate desire to plant a seed and believe in the future.” Growing Hope Gardens is a 501c3 non-profit that relies on grants and donations to pay for insurance costs, transportation, and seeds and plants for their new nursery, which they source locally, and to pay some of their helpers. After fundraising and creating a strong volunteer force, their goal is to raise awareness. “Raising awareness of our work will allow us to bring more food gardens to more people.”
PHOTO COURTESY CAROLYN DAY Carolyn Day in a previous life with the Cheval Theatre.
Last year, each garden wasn’t just a resource and connection for residents, they gave 42,000 pounds of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs to their neighbors.

Day, who speaks fluent French and Spanish, wants to add more diversity to Growing Hope’s board of directors. “We’re looking for people of color to join our board. People who are passionate about social justice.”

One of the reasons people return to homelessness is lack of community and no sense of belonging, says Day. “When you create a garden somewhere, you create reasons for people to stay and not slip back into homelessness.”
Day lives in Topanga with her school teacher husband, Donald, and their sons Tristan, 13, and Simon, 11, who are graduates of Topanga Elementary School. She has been a stuntwoman and joined the circus where she performed back handsprings on a galloping horse. That all stopped when Day had children. “I wanted to do something more meaningful and to help others.”
She’s certainly achieved that and continues to help and inspire others to lead healthier and happier lives.

For more information and to donate visit growinghopegardens.org

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