From Barbed Wire to Green Fields: Urban Agriculture Provides the Seeds of Change to Formerly Incarcerated People
Date:  09-14-2015

Providing jobs and healthy food are the goals of urban farming initiatives
Farming is a tough job. The work can be backbreaking at times, and Mother Nature can cause havoc when drought, frost or flooding destroys a crop. But it also can be rewarding. Small farms don’t bring in a lot of money, but the riches extend beyond finances.

Being able to plant seeds and watching them as they grow into fruit, vegetables and flowers can also allow a person to grow spiritually. There’s just something wondrous about working a plot of soil and seeing your hard work burst from the ground into a colorful bounty of produce or flowers. For those who have been locked up reintegrating back into the community can be tough. Finding a job is often the biggest obstacle for formerly incarcerated people. Farming, especially for those whose entire existence outside of prison has been spent in an urban environment, may be a foreign concept in a newly released person’s mind. But farming can be a way to earn a living while appreciating the sustainability of Mother Earth.

Across America there are those who believe in giving second-chances to formerly incarcerated through instilling in them the skills and pride of turning a piece of the city into a green and vibrant source of food for the community. Reentry Central would like to introduce our readers to two of them.

At age 72, Elaine Brown shows no sign of slowing down. This former Chair of the Black Panther Party has developed a reentry program and small business incubator to help low-income black men and women. In California, West Oakland Farms employs formerly incarcerated people and is just one of the ideas Brown envisions as a way to build up the community. Read more.

In Wisconsin Robert Pierce, a long-time organic farmer, is partnering with other organizations including the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development’s reentry services program to train formerly incarcerated men how to grow food organically. Pierce hopes that the men he trains will, in turn, train other formerly incarcerated people how to grow organic food in an effort to provide jobs and healthy food to people in the area of South Madison, Wisconsin. Read more about Pierce’s project here.