On a sustainable farm established on the site that was once a deactivated prison, vegetables have been grown by young people who, had it not been for the opportunity to learn the oldest occupation in the world, could have ended up in a real prison.
Growing Change is an NGO that believes that the best solution to a problem is one that reaches the root of it. That is why it has been dedicated since 2011 to giving hope back to people who live without prospects; and they’re doing it through agriculture.
By converting old prisons into agricultural and educational centers, Growing Change solves several problems at the same time. The program brings together young people who have had problems with justice and war veterans who are unable to get a job.
By recruiting the discipline and leadership skills of the latter to teach and guide the former, Growing Change creates an environment in which young people who need to complete long hours of community service can learn life skills, such as sustainable farming and animal husbandry. In addition, they find an opportunity to be rehabilitated in a much more suitable environment than conventional ones.
"North Carolina is one of the last two states young people account for all criminal charges as adults at age 16," explains the initiative's founder, Noran Sanford. "When some 16-year-olds come to court, they are permanently limited in terms of employment opportunities due to their 'adult' criminal record."
In 2016, the farm also began to admit young people facing difficult situations at home, problems at school, mental health problems or substance abuse - to save lives before the criminal justice cycle begins.
The intensive care model created by Sanford was responsible for a 92% reduction in the crime recurrence rate among young participants, while the national average for criminal recidivism is 43%.
"We are giving hope back," explains Sanford in an interview. “When hope fades, it creates a very cruel void, into which many other darker things can be drawn. And as low-income rural America is left behind, this vacuum is stronger. We are breaking this flow. ”
Meanwhile, war veterans are working towards university degrees in environmental sciences and sustainable agriculture. Together, these young and old people living on the margins of society work to rehabilitate abandoned fields (land that may be contaminated and must be cleaned before future use) and old prisons that have been deactivated.
The crops produced by the Growing Change farm are also sold to local restaurants, a business aspect of the project that allows the program to be self-sustaining for years, fertilizing entrepreneurship in the hearts of everyone who works on the farm.