You can’t argue with the benefits of urban farming. Not only does it provide fresh, local food, but it also helps to unite a community.
While most of these farms focus exclusively on the sprouting fruits and vegetables, a few are looking to grow better lives for a group that is commonly forgotten: former prisoners and at-risk youths.
With 2.2 million people currently in jail, according to the Sentencing Project, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. But even after being released, life for many of these individuals doesn’t get much (if any) better. Many employers don’t want to hire ex-convicts, so the former prisoners fall back into their old life, committing crimes and returning to jail — continuing the cycle.
Which is where these urban farms come in. They employ those that are formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth, offering job-training programs and putting these individuals on a path towards higher education and full-time employment.
Here are three standout urban farms (according to Sustainable Cities Collective) working towards this goal.
1. Recovery Park: Detroit, Michigan
Started in 2010, Recovery Park currently has a fully-operational 30-acre farm on land that used to be an empty parking lot. That isn’t all though, as the group is now working to create a three-tiered business model that will produce fresh food for the neighborhood as well as create jobs for those unable to find employment, such as former inmates and addicts. Eventually, the farm plans to have 2,475 acres of land, plus a food processing facility and an indoor aquaponic farm. Over the next 10 years, the goal is to create 18,000 jobs.
2. Seattle Youth Garden Works: Seattle, Washington
On the west coast, you will find the Seattle Youth Garden Works. Since 1995, this group has been providing employment and education for young adults who are either homeless or involved with the juvenile justice system. Positive reinforcement and an education in agriculture, cooking, nutrition, entrepreneurship and resume building are provided to the group of 16-21 year olds.
3. Windy City Harvest Corps: Chicago, Illinois
From 2009-2013, the Windy City Harvest Corps offered 13-week transitional jobs in the urban farming industry to 60-90 recently-released inmates. During that time, the individuals were taught job skills and given the opportunity to better their lives.  After completing the program, many went on to work for Windy City Harvest or to other full-time jobs.
However, with the start of 2014, the group has switched their focus to at-risk youths. Through a partnership with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the group will work to create employment and education opportunities to curb the rate of imprisonment among 17-21 year olds.
To check out a few more promising urban farming programs, click here.
Opportunity can arise from anywhere, and as those that participate in these initiatives are experiencing, it can come in the form of farming. Sometimes a little dirt is all it takes to live a clean life.
MORE: This Inmate Has Become a Diving Expert in Prison. Here’s Why That’s Good for America