The use of prison labor to grow organic food is not a joke, but neither
is it some sneaky way for organic farmers to get away with paying nothing
instead of minimum wage to a hispanic worker who may or may not be in the
country legally or to an apprentice who might get paid even less than the
The one case of prisoners growing organic food is a project started by
Catherine Sneed Markum in the San Bruno County Prison (San Francisco Bay
Area). She is a prison counselor.
As one of the diffferent programs inmates can do for 4 hours a day is the
horticultural program. It is quite popular because the inmates get to be
outside, although still of the prisons grounds. The program began in
1982 and teaches the inmates many life lessons. They learn that mistakes
enter the compost pile and can benefit the garden in the future after it
has changed and become healthy soil. They learn about respect for plants
and how these and many other lessons apply to the rest of their lives.
All the work is done by hand, cultivating, field preparation,
transplanting, and harvesting.
Both men and women are in the program. They learn something about botany
each morning in the classroom and then go out and work in the "garden"
(most of the African Americans aren't that excited to call it a field,
since there is still bad connotations about working in the fields). They
start all their crops in the greenhouse and the results of their labors
don't compete against the many other farmers in the region. Rather, all
the food they grow goes to soup kitchens and low income centers, many of
which are located in the communities where these folks came from. They
feel like they are contributing something to the community where they
have taken away so much.
But Catherine, who started the program after reading the Grapes of Wrath
while in the hospital with a life-threatening disease, learned that
inmates were trying to get back into prison once released because the
garden there gave them some kind of reason for being and they had nothing
benficial to contribute once "on the outside." So she has started a
program outside the prison (in 1990) on vacant land about 2 miles from
Candlestick Park in Bayview Point in the city where these folks can work
for pay and produce food for a number of the Bay Area's best restaurants,
including Chez Panisse.
I do not know what is happening to these folks as they have moved on, but
the entire idea seems a lot better than just locking people up in a cage
and then, after they've served their sentence, think they will become
contributing members of society.
So the idea of prison gardens, as opposed to prisoners displacing other
low-paid workers to grow our organic food in the fields of California and
Texas and Florida, seems like a pretty good idea to me. The idea of
hiring the people who have completed such a program and been released
from prison also seems like a good idea.
For anyone who would like to watch a 15 minute video about the garden
project started by Catherine Sneed please email me. I would be happy to
send my copy of the video to you if you send me $3 to pay for shipping.
michael (a formerly low-paid intern on a organic farm and soon-to-be low
paid coworker on another)
You don't need to buy Internet access to use free Internet e-mail.
Get completely free e-mail from Juno at http://www.juno.com/getjuno.html
or call Juno at (800) 654-JUNO [654-5866]
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with the command
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command
All messages to sanet-mg are archived at: