Program will teach urban farming to prisoners

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Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 --- 10:22 p.m.

A new partnership will teach former inmates how to make a living as urban farmers. The goal is to provide valuable skills to the prisoners, while also providing fresh, local food options to the South Madison community.

Robert Pierce runs the South Madison Farmers' Market. He grew up just off Park Street and says fresh food is hard to find.

"This place has always been a food desert. So I grew up growing my own food," Pierce said.

Now, he's going to be sharing his skills with recently released inmates. With the help of a grant from the UW, Pierce will teach prisoners how to farm, and provide them the opportunity to sell their produce at the farmers' market.

"The ultimate goal is to see these guys make a living out of urban agriculture," he said.

Making a living, at all, after prison can be difficult for many, according to Anthony Cooper, Director of Re-entry Services at the Nehemiah Center in Madison.

"It can be from their criminal history, or lack of work history," Cooper said.

A study by the Bureau of Justice found nearly three quarters of prisoners were rearrested within five years of their release. Cooper believes a lack of job opportunities contributes to the problem.

"A lot of people when they're coming out of prison, if you don't have anything to support yourself, 9 times out of 10 you're going to go back to what you're used to doing," he said, referring to illegal activities.

He's enthusiastic to work with Pierce on the program. He believes it will help teach prisoners the fundamentals of working, and provide them with skills they can apply in future positions.

The program will begin in September.