Bay Area program provides urban ag jobs to ex-offenders
The East Oakland non-profit organization Planting Justice hires former inmates, many from San Quentin, and pays them a family sustaining wage to work on urban farms, orchards and nurseries, and offer environmental education, reported Patti Brown in the New York Times.
Of the 35 formerly incarcerated workers hired by Planting Justice since 2009, only one is known to have returned to prison. Employees must commit to staying sober and drug free.
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, said that the organization's founders, Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders, have “shifted the conversation around food justice.”
“It's not just about food security, but the security of providing living wages,” she said.
Sowerwine said she learned about Planting Justice a few years ago in an urban farming focus group and worked with the program on many projects. She suggested the New York Times reporter do a feature story on Planting Justice, set up the interview and attended the site visit to support the introduction.
Planting Justice, in partnership with the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture, were recipients of a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Grant from USDA at the same time as Sowerwine.
"We collaborate and support each other's programs through providing mutual guidance, co-sponsoring events, and offering opportunities for shared learning for our participants," Sowerwine said. "We are exploring deeper partnerships with a MESA/PJ training program at the Gill Tract as well in an effort to raise the profile of urban farming, and amplify successful and innovative urban agriculture approaches."