Formerly incarcerated resident builds his legacy with the Farm on Ogden

alt text By Elijah Walker, Criminal Justice Reform Reporter, The Real Chi

Dawvid Chayim was in and out of prison for the last 23 years as a result of dealing drugs and burglary. With the support of his community and help from the people at the Farm on Ogden, he overcame those roadblocks and found a place that he believes is his true calling.

The Farm on Ogden in North Lawndale uses urban agriculture to build healthy relationships and sustain healthy lifestyles in the community. The prime benefit of the farm is its welcoming and comforting environment where formerly incarcerated people and Chicago Public School students can use  their talents for the greater good of the community.

“Being in and out of prison, I knew that eventually I would have to stop,” Chayim said. However, he didn’t decide to change his ways until a devastating loss in his life. “I just didn’t think it took my father passing away for that to happen.”

After his September release, Chayim was introduced to the Farm on Ogden at a job fair by Joan Hopkins,  coordinator for the Windy City Harvest Corps. Noticing his criminal background, Hopkins recommended the Farm on Ogden’s Core program to Chayim.

“I never knew, coming from the criminal side, this side of working in a corporate environment with people that are genuine and honest. It’s much love here.”

The core program gives CPS students, former veterans, and people who were previously incarcerated training in urban agriculture, food safety, cooking and nutrition to assist them in getting jobs. After completing the core program, Chayim started working on the farm fulltime as part of a work study program.

Chayim said the farm is a space that allows him to achieve personal growth to meet new challenges that come his way. While he has learned a lot about his daily tasks doing construction and repairs for the farm, Chayim believes he has a long way to go before he reaches his ceiling. “The tasks that they me put me on, I excel in,” Chayim said. “It’s like a hidden talent I didn’t know I had before.”

Tigerna Madison, a crew leader for the youth farmers, saw a similar personal growth within herself from working at the farm. “I learned how to be a momma,” Madison said. “The farm made me think that everybody can be seen as a family. I learned to be that shoulder that someone can lean on.”

“...these people are like a second family to me.”

That sense of family is so important that many of the participants said it is the key to their success. “From the moment I started working here it’s been totally different,” Chayim said. “I never knew, coming from the criminal side, this side of working in a corporate environment with people that are genuine and honest. It’s much love here.”

That feeling of love also runs deep through the entire staff from the coordinators to the youth farmers. The youth farmers work up to 20 hours a week, but they say the benefits of working at the Urban Farm extend far beyond the pay.

Tyreese Alexander looks at other youth farmers as more than friends. “I’m a family person and these people are like a second family to me,” he said. “They put a smile on my face when I come here, and if I ask for help, they help me.”

Keely Coates, another youth farmer, shared Alexander’s sentiment and added that she looks forward to coming to the farm every day, having fun and making friends.  

As for youth farmer Melanie Franco, she believes the farm has a significant influence on the community. “It is really helpful for the people to have this farm,” she said. “They know that our food is organic and fresh, and they think it’s easier to come here and buy from our market.”

The people who know Chayim never thought he would get so much attention for making such a positive influence community, and “it shocks them because they know the life and background that I come from.”

More than that, Chayim looks at his experience on the Farm on Ogden as the place for him to cultivate his legacy. “This is something that I helped build,” he said. “It’s something that will always be here and something that I was a part of.”