Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Greening And Environment

Nonprofit flips abandoned prison into sustainable farm with the help of at-risk youth and jobless veteran

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On the grounds of an abandoned and decommissioned prison in North Carolina, vegetables are being tended by hands that, if not for the opportunity to learn the world’s oldest occupation, might have ended up in a real prison with nowhere to go but down.

But Growing Change is an organization that believes the best solution to a problem is one that strikes at the root, not at the stem—and they have been tilling that soil since 2011.

In converting old prisons to year-round-farming and education centers, Growing Change solves several problems at once. The program synergistically brings together young men on the edge of the criminal justice system, and jobless wounded veterans returning from deployment.

Recruiting the discipline and leadership skills of the latter to teach and guide the former, Growing Change creates an environment whereby at-risk youth who need to fulfill long hours of community service can learn life skills, sustainable farming practices, and animal husbandry, with an opportunity to receive clinical therapy in an environment much more suited to young men.

“North Carolina is one of the last two states in which youth are adjudicated as adults for all charges at age 16,” explains the founder Noran Sanford. “By the time some 16 year-olds arrive in the courts they are permanently limited in their employment due to their ‘adult’ criminal record.”

In 2016, the farm in Wagram also began admitting young men facing chaos at home, failure at school, trouble with mental health or substance abuse—to salvage lives before the criminal justice cycle begins.

Sanford’s model of intensive therapy and “flipping their prisons” has seen a 92% reduction in recidivism rate among youth participants, while the national average of criminal recidivism is 43%.

“At the core level, we are instilling hope,” Sanford explains to Civil Eats. “When hope is gone, it creates a pretty vicious void that a lot of other grimmer things can get pulled into. And as low-wealth rural America is left further behind, then that vacuum is stronger. We’re breaking that stream.”

Meanwhile, the veterans work toward university degrees in environmental sciences and sustainable agriculture. Together, these individuals young and old who may have been on the fringes of society work to rehabilitate abandoned brownfields (land that might be contaminated and must be cleaned before future use) and the prison property decaying into dysfunction.

source: GNN

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