Homeless in Miami find new outlet, feeding the well-heeled

Sun Sep 9, 2012 12:20pm EDT
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - As part of an innovative effort to tackle Miami's problem with homelessness, Xavier Wright has traded the streets of downtown for a live-in community farm project in south Florida that grows produce for an upscale restaurant.

Wright, 25, said it's his first steady job in two years.

"I love this. I love being outside, I love working with my hands," said Wright, wearing a straw hat to shield himself from Florida's relentless summer sun.

Verde Gardens, a $17.2 million, 145-unit complex built for Miami's formerly homeless, boasts a 22-acre (9-hectare) organic farm planted with a variety of fruits and vegetables from potatoes to bananas and pigeon peas.

Wright, who previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, had resided in a homeless shelter with his 6-year-old autistic son before moving to Verde Gardens.

The farm is tapping into a rising trend in the restaurant industry to use locally grown seasonal products.

Norman Van Aken, a nationally acclaimed chef, has been buying produce from the farm for about six months for his newest eco-friendly restaurant, Tuyo, which sits atop the newly created Miami Culinary Institute in downtown Miami.

With breathtaking views of the city and Biscayne Bay, Tuyo serves a well-heeled crowd, including classical music aficionados who come by after attending performances at the city's opera house and concert hall a few blocks away.   Continued...

Xavier Wright, who previously lived in a homeless shelter, works in Verde Gardens farm in this handout photo taken in Homestead, Florida August 7, 2012. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson/The MNetwork/Handout