About growingalliances

Building sustainable communities through permaculture and entrepreneurial programs in schools


One of the many benefits of working with Growing Alliances is witnessing the ease with which we build a supportive network around us. This experience makes me optimistic about the compassion of our community and the strength of our interpersonal relationships. We have so much support from students, the Bellingham gardening community and as we discovered recently, support from other local nonprofits that pair urban agriculture with youth employment programs.

On January 27, I took the trek from Bellingham to Olympia, Washington, just as the sun was rising, to attend the NW Youth and Garden Conference. The event took place at GRUB Farm, an inspiring program that partners with the public schools to provide alternative science programs and summer job opportunities. During the seven hour conference, we shared stories, advice, ate delicious food, and most importantly, discussed how we could work together to improve our services.

At one point during the conference we split into small groups to discuss more specific concerns of ours, which for me are the inclusion of all identities in our organization and the successful transfer of youth into higher employment or education after our program. It is always a concern when working with any group of people that someone will feel isolated, uncomfortable or unsafe, and it is a priority of Growing Alliances to host a respectful and safe space to learn and earn an income.

We then discussed methods used by past employees to successfully find further employment after they turned 18 and aged out of these programs. Growing Alliances plans on employing youth for at least a year after they age out of foster care so that they have dependable income during this time. This does not however, lessen the necessity of graduating our youth into more work or education. Some of the techniques we discussed included supervised mentorships in local businesses while still employed by Growing Alliances or providing continuous professional support during their new job. We also discussed the best ways to promote hardworking youth into roles with more responsibility so that they are successful, build more skills and confidence, while helping Growing Alliances to flourish.

One idea on how to collaborate was to develop group career service workshops, in which all youth from programs in western Washington would join together and build relationships while learning skills about interviewing, resume building, etc. We figure – why do it independently if it would be cheaper, easier and socially beneficially for the youth to do it together?

Collaboration is a beautiful thing, which left me feeling supported and inspired at the end of the day. We at Growing Alliances look forward to continuing the support and collaboration between organizations, so that we can provide the best programs possible for our youth.

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As always, we love to receive comments, ideas and critiques, so comment below or send us an email!

We are here to LEARN together

to GROW together

to THRIVE together.

Keep an eye out for announcements about our delicious fundraiser at the end of March!

By |February 12th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Inspiration from Northwest Youth Services

In March of 2016 I became the Lead Garden Educator for the WeGrow Garden at Northwest Youth Services, through their vocational training program. Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) is another Bellingham, Washington-based nonprofit that provides resources to homeless and previously homeless youth, in order to assist them on their way towards housing and financial stability. NWYS staff encouraged Growing Alliances to pursue our mission, despite the overlap, because Bellingham needs more resources for disadvantaged youth.

The WeGrow Program employs at most 5 youth in a minimum of a 3-month vocational training program to teach farm skills, botany, biology, teamwork with their peers and volunteers, accounting skills, and other vital job skills. For the three months before starting our market stand, we delegated about 30 minutes of each 4-hour workday for lessons in biology so that the youth would better understand the processes happening in the garden.

Up until this growing season (2017), WeGrow had a .25-acre farm next to the NWYS office on State St, where we produced hundreds of pounds of produce and popped up a market stand during the summer months. Despite the scarce income we made through the market stand, it gave the youth the opportunity to work on customer service, accounting, and personal and product presentation. We also surveyed local businesses for which would be interested in a weekly produce box, during which we continued a relationship with the delicious Leaf & Ladle. What wasn’t sold was donated to the food bank. For the 2017 season, WeGrow will be breaking ground on a new site, across from the Bellingham Food Bank.

I learned a lot during those 7 months about effective garden education and how to modify my lesson delivery to best communicate with each youth. I plan on using much of what I learned to create a happy, healthy, and educational work environment for the youth of Growing Alliances. The best part of my job was seeing the youth be excited and proud of their work, and to watch the progression of their work and garden skills. These youth are incredible and I am honored to know each one of them.

Five out of the six youth we employed over the season moved on from WeGrow to more full-time employment – one of the program’s major goals. Similar to WeGrow, Growing Alliances will have the goal of providing the youth we work with the skills and connections needed to give them more long-term employment.

This experience demonstrated how much need there is for vocational training programs for youth with unusually high obstacles to employment. Less than half (48%) of youth who have recently transitioned out of foster care are employed whatsoever and those who are make less than $10,000 a year on average. Reliable income is a basic need for everyone and it is a goal of Growing Alliances, Northwest Youth Services and many other amazing nonprofits and individuals to give a hand to those who need one.

One of the main goals this winter of Growing Alliances is the development of several program plans so that we may survey our targeted population on which would be most appealing. It is possible that Growing Alliances will start another urban farm in Bellingham, based on demand, but we have several other ideas that are more popular amongst our Board Members. We shall see where our surveys bring us; stay tuned for updates in the coming months!

For more information about Northwest Youth Services and their programs, please check out their website: https://www.nwys.org/vocational-opportunities/

Many thanks,

Kali Crow-Liester

By |January 14th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A Change in Leadership!

A Change in Leadership

Growing Alliances has switched leadership! In November, Heather Tiszai handed her role as Executive Director over to Kali Crow-Liester, a soon-to-be Western graduate with a big vision for the organization. We are currently in the process of revamping our mission and programs, though we plan on continuing with the Cargo Club to deliver produce by bike around Bellingham.

Kali and the new Board of Directors wish to transfer the focus of Growing Alliances from sustainable agriculture in the Bahamas and onto vulnerable populations in Whatcom County. We are specifically interested in working with youth in foster care who are soon to turn 18 and ‘age-out’ of foster care, meaning that they will no longer qualify for any type of support. Our current thought is to create jobs in urban agriculture for this population, in order to make this transition less of a financial challenge.

Over the winter months we will be surveying this potential clientele to assess whether they truly need job assistance and if so, what job programs would be most interesting to them. We will also spend significant time connecting with the community to gain support and foster partnerships to best serve our clientele. Some organizations we are interested in partnering with are Northwest Youth Services, Skookum House, the Restorative Action Coalition, the WSU Whatcom Extension, and others.

One other very important focus of this winter is finding seed money to pay for our start-up costs, such as state fees, marketing materials, and soon our very first employee! The majority of our money will be sought out through grants that Kali will write this winter, which will pay for a bike, its accessories, a stipend for Kali and for our first youth employee! If anyone believes in our new mission and has any ideas of how to get funding, please let us know! If that includes an interest in donating, please feel free to donate anything you can during this holiday season!

Thank you all so much and I look forward to working in this amazing and supportive Bellingham community!


Kali Crow-Liester

By |December 12th, 2016|blog|0 Comments