Impact Justice announces the launch of Growing Justice. This first-of-a-kind initiative will expand access to fresh, healthy food in prison and in the community while preparing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people for employment in the rapidly expanding business of indoor farming.
"People in prison face substantial challenges, including poor and limited food choices. For those released, employment options are limited and healthy food remains difficult to obtain," says Impact Justice President Alex Busansky. "Growing Justice demonstrates how government, the nonprofit sector, and businesses can work together to improve the quality of food, create pathways to jobs, and give people a real second chance."
Impact Justice will establish a pilot indoor farm on the grounds of the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla and a second pilot farm at our Oakland office building. These hydroponic farms built entirely inside shipping containers outfitted with grow lights, and irrigation systems will produce nutrient-rich leafy greens for use in the prison's kitchen and in Oakland communities while also functioning as job training sites for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.
To create a pipeline to jobs, Growing Justice is building relationships with the largest controlled environment agriculture (CEA) companies in California and beyond. This expanding list currently includes Square Roots, Bowery Farming, and Fork Farms. Our CEA partners are committed to working with Growing Justice graduates to connect them to job opportunities in the indoor farming sector.
"Square Roots believes new opportunities in high-tech agriculture should be available to everyone, which is why we welcome the opportunity to work with Impact Justice to identify ways we can offer incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people training opportunities and pathways to employment," said Ashley Rafalow, Director of Impact at Square Roots. "We actively incorporate inclusive, anti-racist, and anti-oppressive practices into our company's DNA and invest in our teams to offer accelerated career paths, work that aligns with Growing Justice."
Initial funding for Growing Justice comes from the California State Legislature, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Innovations grant, and an anonymous donor. "The innovative programming grants allow CDCR to explore varying types of rehabilitative programming for the incarcerated population," Brantley Choate, Director of CDCR's Division of Rehabilitative Programs, said. "We're especially thrilled to offer job training tied to an emerging industry through a program that also provides real-world connections with potential employers after release."
Because indoor farming can be efficient and profitable on a small scale, both the initial and ongoing operational costs are less of a barrier to the creation of new farming businesses. This makes Growing Justice a potential launching pad for formerly incarcerated people, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, to eventually start their own indoor farming business – one step toward making a highly unequal industry more racially just. Less than 2% of all agricultural producers in the United States are Black-owned, with the majority of other producers being white-owned, often by large corporations.
Impact Justice is partnering with Skout Strategy, experts in indoor ag-technology, to engineer and build both farms. "Creating access to food, rebuilding our food system, and giving individuals a certifiable skill set they can use when they are released will help restore, liberate, and rebuild lives and communities. It's one of the inspiring ways that Impact Justice is dismantling systems of oppression and mitigating the effects food injustice and other inequities have on communities," says George Carter, CEO, and founder of Skout Strategy.
To support graduates of both the in-prison and Oakland job training programs, we are partnering with Honest Jobs and others to help companies fully welcome and successfully on-board new employees with a history of incarceration.
We are also working with Agritecture, a national leader in CEA, to create a six-month training curriculum specifically for use in prison that combines classroom education with hands-on learning opportunities as incarcerated people help to run the indoor farm.
"We're proud to be a founding partner of a project that extends the nutritional and economic benefits of vertical farming to people in prison poised to rejoin society and also supports the growth of a model of farming that is resource efficient and critical to creating more resilient communities," says David Ceaser, Lead Agronomist of Agritecture.
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