Philadelphia’s Prison System is Fighting Food Waste and Recidivism with an Organic Farm

Inmates at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center have a novel way of spending their incarceration, instead of push-ups and laps of the yard they are tending to crops, and harvesting fruits and vegetables. 

This particular prison farm is home to rows of peach and fig trees, it is abundant with eggplant, watermelons and butternut squash to name a few.

This unusual prison is paving the way for other institutions to follow suit in the process of a national “greening of the correctional facilities” and not just from farming, there are programs for energy consumption, waste, and re-use, and offering incarcerated people green job training.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project operated by the Washington State Department of Corrections was the fore barer for other similar projects all over the country. 

Institutions a decade ago didn't even recycle it's own rubbish now have state-of-the-art composting systems, farms, and an organic agriculture vocational program which allows inmates to gain certificates from Temple University. 

The effects on the local environment have been huge. The office of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney reported recently that the program diverts 685 tons of food waste per year into compost, which saves the city more than $40,000 in landfill costs. The prison department’s sustainability manager Laura Cassidy  was recently awarded a prestigious innovation award for her role in helping create “Philadelphia’s first City-run captive food waste composting program.” Cassidy says “We went from zero to approximately 300 tons of recyclables a year".

Processing  Waste

Less than a mile from the prison stands the now defunct Holmesburg Prison, which is now used for prison overflow. In 2012 aerated compost bays were built outside the crumbling building by Philadelphia Prison System (PPS) which established a workspace for the inmates.

Everyday at 6 a.m., dozens of 22-gallon barrels arrive at the prison’s main campus, where inmates from the low-security Alternative and Special Detention facility begin processing it. This process involves loading one ton of food waste from two of the prison’s six facilities and bringing it back to the Holmesburg site where it is covered with woodchips and stored in bays aerated with PVC pipes below. The waste is left to dry for 60 days and then moved by the inmates to a field nearby for another month. It is then filtered using a makeshift piece of equipment- a washing machine barrel with holes drilled into it.

The inmates produce a staggering amount of food waste- one tonne per day- which comes from 2,000 inmates, this produces much more compost than the prison could ever need on its own, and so the idea was born to give away the compost to community gardens all over the city the city. The soil produced by this method is highly sought after, as it has perfect ph levels for fertilisation meaning the inmates can't produce this black gold quick enough.

Organic Prison Farming In The Real World

The tangible benefits from this and other similar prison schemes are not the only positives to come out of this. The inmates working on such schemes are being prepared for a life outside prison. 

The PPS has partnered up with Temple University to offer vocational certificates to all the inmates who complete the program, giving them more chances at employment once out of the facility. “When a guy already has 10 strikes against his name on the job market, anything will help,” Cassidy says
The course is still in its early stages, with only two classes of about 10 students that have graduated so far, but thee are plans to expand it. There is currently plans to add a nutrition component and plans to launch a job fair to get the workers connected with employers in farming, hospitality, retail, and green jobs.

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Philadelphia’s Prison System is Fighting Food Waste and Recidivism with an Organic Farm Philadelphia’s Prison System is Fighting Food Waste and Recidivism with an Organic Farm Reviewed by C C on 22:21:00 Rating: 5
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