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Benevolence Farm: A transitional program for former prisoners

By Morgan Josey Glover|

Benevolence Farm, a new North Carolina nonprofit, is looking for land in Alamance County  to start a farm-based  transitional program for women leaving state prisons. Founder Tanya Jisa's mission is to enable the women to support themselves by growing their own food on an organic farm and selling that produce at local farmers markets and CSAs (community-supported agriculture programs).

Programming would include: entrepreneurship and small business skills; career building; financial health; family reunification; agriculture, horticulture and permaculture; food preparation and presentation; value-added production; nutrition education; 12-step recovery support; physical exercise; diverse food traditions; community building; and spiritual exploration and growth.

"We're moving along slowly but surely," said Jisa, a Carrboro social worker who moved to North Carolina five years because of her interest in sustainable agriculture. "We want to do everything as sustainable as possible."

Jisa has received 501(c)3 status and established a board of directors. The board includes a LEED-certified architect, a Chatham County farmer, faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and others. Her project also was a finalist on PBS NOW's "Project Enterprise Contest." The board is currently developing a business plan and researching funding and land opportunities. Jisa said she hopes to start accepting women into the program by 2012.

Jisa describes her concept more in an e-mail: 

"The need for Benevolence Farm exists because over 3,500 women are released from NC prisons each year and the majority of re-entry programs in our region target men and/or are short-term. Benevolence Farm will offer safe, stable housing, employment that is meaningful and fulfilling, opportunities to grow skills - life and career - nutritious food, and physical exercise for up to two years. Because residents will be contributing to the operations of the farm, essentially paying part of their own expenses through their labor contribution - they secure their involvement with the program and have the time and space, figuratively and literally, to make real, lasting changes. The lengthier stay of up to 24 months is more in line with the research that shows more time is necessary to establish a firm footing for complete independence and staving off recidivism. Benevolence Farm draws upon a number of best practices with the results being good for women participants and their families, the greater community, the communities to which the women return, the farmland, the economy, and the earth....

"The vision of Benevolence Farm is women possessing the physical, spiritual, and financial health necessary to return to their chosen community with the knowledge and tools necessary to live independently and successfully. Another desirable outcome is for the program to become fully self-supporting through the production and sale of organic produce and products, thereby ensuring that the program continues to serve as many women as possible. Benevolence Farm is unique in combining a sustainable environment with a holistic social service mission thereby creating a mutually beneficial relationship enabling the healing of people with and through the healing of the earth."

People interested in supporting the project can contact Jisa at [email protected] or (919) 724-5311.


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