The Atlanta based program Gangstas to Growers is breaking the cycle of youth incarceration by putting former offenders to work on farms, and paying them a living wage to do it.
To many residents of the historically black neighborhoods on Atlanta’s westside, Abiodun Henderson is both local savior and master storyteller. Better known as Miss Abbey, Atlantans drizzle her original hot sauce recipe — which she developed after watching YouTube videos — on their food, and they lean in close when she tells stories of her family’s roots in Liberia and Trinidad.
And when there’s a problem, they go to her. The 36-year-old mother heard about local farmers’ struggles to find enough farmhands to work their land. At the same time, Henderson watched as hordes of young people in her community came home from prison or jail, and went right back in after struggling to find a job with a stable, livable wage.
A lightbulb went off and Henderson, who previously oversaw a community garden in Atlanta’s Westview neighborhood, combined her knowledge of urban farming with a passion for increasing economic opportunities for disadvantaged youth. The result became Gangstas to Growers, an agribusiness training program for formerly incarcerated youth between the ages of 18 and 24.
Launched in 2016, the three-month program equips participants not just with farming and gardening know-how, but also the ins and outs of running a business. There’s a heavy focus on personal development, too, and on any given day the young adults might hear from experts on topics such as financial literacy, environmental sustainability, nutritional cooking, and criminal justice. In between morning yoga sessions and evening seminars, the trainees spend their afternoons at black-owned farms, digging, planting and harvesting crops for which they’re paid $15 an hour — more than twice Georgia’s minimum wage.
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