How Atlanta Is Turning Ex-Cons Into Urban Farmers
By Max Blau
On a 4-acre farm a few miles south of the Fulton County Jail, Abiodun Henderson swung a pickax into the soil at her feet. She kept at it until she was winded and sweating on this brisk October morning. Around her, 10 young men and women tentatively swung their own tools at the ground, loosening the soil for a set of raised beds where turmeric and ginger plants would grow inside a hoop house through the mild Georgia winter.
“This is how deep we’re going!” Henderson shouted over to Derriontae Trent, one of her trainees, as she pointed to a rusted spike hammered nearly a foot down in the soil. “Teamwork makes the dream work!”
Trent, a smart and wiry father in his early 20s, had recently completed a 2-year prison sentence for multiple weapon and drug charges. He figured that with a rap sheet longer than his résumé his only choice might be a return to the streets. Over the summer, a friend suggested he call Henderson, who had just started a program that would train previously incarcerated youth how to harvest crops. Best of all, it promised to pay $15 an hour. Even though Trent had never worked on a farm before, by early August he was enrolled as the newest member of Gangstas to Growers. Two months after that, he was gripping a hoe, shoulder to shoulder with Henderson, while trying to keep the mud off his fresh white sneakers.
“I was so used to seeing death that I didn’t know how it’d feel to see something grow,” Trent said. “To see plants grow full of life, from something I control, it’s probably the best feeling in the world.”