Planting Justice provides fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods, job training, and jobs to formerly incarcerated, according to The Guardian.
The organization hires many citizens returning from incarceration, and provides stable jobs with benefits and starting pay around $19 an hour.
“It’s a huge coping skill, to be working with the soil, planting stuff and seeing it grow,” said Sol Mercado, a formerly incarcerated person.
Founded in 2009, Planting Justice has a two-acre nursery in Sobrante Park on land that once belonged to the indigenous Ohlone people. Plans are currently in the works to have the land officially returned to the Ohlone, so Planting Justice could lease it from the Ohlones.
Planting Justice has installed 550 vegetable/fruit gardens in community centers, schools, and homes. It hosts educational programs for local youth and distributes produce to local residents. It even gives away free smoothies at Bay Area Rapid Transit stations.
You can also sample its fresh produce at the Good Table, a local cafe where patrons pay what they can afford, the Aug. 7, 2022 story notes.
The organization provides gardening workshops in jails and prisons, including San Quentin. These classes focused on topics like water, waste, permaculture and green jobs. This type of educational program did not exist pre-pandemic.
“Folks’ race, class, gender, the exclusion from traditional workforce, physical geography and citizenship status shape how a person will interact with the carceral system and policing” stated Maya Salsedo, Planting Justice’s education program director.
“Those are the same factors that determine how people will interact with our food system, whether they’re a service worker who can’t afford to feed their family or they’re someone eating farm-to-table dinners. Those intersectional oppressions are the same,” said Salsedo.
Former San Quentin resident Bilal Coleman heard about Planting Justice from its partner program, Insight Garden. It advertised the program was hiring returning citizens to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Coleman paroled in 2015 after serving 20 years. He said, “Ever since I can remember, there’s been a garden in my family.” Working for Planting Justice “was a chance to get on my feet before I actually paroled. It made a lot of things a lot more successful in my transition.”
Having worked almost every job at Planting Justice, Coleman now focuses on helping youth education. He started a high school culinary program which pays for underserved students to become certified food handlers. He said this can lead to entrepreneurial opportunity and is also a deterrent from gang involvement.
“Giving them something that’s tangible, in my opinion, lessens that, and will give you an opportunity to maybe not get in that car, because you had something else you have to do, you have purpose,” said Coleman.
Recidivism rates for those involved in Planting Justice is 2% lower than California’s 50%, stated Salsedo. She also added through this work she has seen the injustices in the food system and mass incarcerations are often the same.
The Planting Justice group has planted over 1,000 fruit trees in and around Oakland, including apple, pear, olives, peach and fig.
Covonne Page, Planting Justice’s land team leader, says he remembers a time before San Leandro creek dried up. Friends would ride inflatable rafts and blackberry bushes lined both sides of the creek. Houses had gardens and trees filled with fruit, neighbors would trade harvests and all the families ate well.
“It also gave more of a sense of community. People were saying, ‘Oh, come pick some of the lemons out of my yard or come get them before they hit the ground,’” Page said.
“I watched this place go downhill. Planting Justice is one of the only positive things going on,” said Page.
“There are no boundaries here,” Mercado said, standing among the rows of growing produce. “In prison, they’d say, ‘You can’t go over there!’ Here I feel free. I’m finally free!”