Giving Prisoners the Opportunity to Nurture

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington and Joe Smith

Hungry Mother Organics has helped transform the lives of prisoners by giving them the opportunity to nurture something. Joe Smith, Director of F.O.C.U.S., shares how learning to farm organically yielded blessings.


Mark O'Farrell, owner of Hungry Mothers Organics, started an amazing program with the Northern Nevada Correctional Facility about four years ago by offering prisoners the opportunity to work on an organic farm.

The prisoners who signed up for this activity have had their lives revolutionized. For the first time, they nurtured something. They planted their first tomato seed and watched it grow. HMO workers also helped the paroled inmates start their own gardens. For some of us, this may seem inconsequential; for them, it was transforming.

Our non-profit organization, F.O.C.U.S., wanted to lend support to this incredible program. At the prison, there's a green house and five hoop frame houses. The prisoners grow field crops -- arugula, spinach, radishes, carrots, beets -- and sell them as produce at the farmers' market. They even have free-range chickens. The compost that we get from recycling Whole Foods' left-over fruit and vegetables gets used at the prison for the plants they grow.

We generally get the prisoners who want to work on the farm. Many genuinely love it. It's been very enjoyable teaching the prisoners. Commonly heard feedback is that when it comes time for their parole, many indicate that they would just as soon stay in prison so they can continue to farm. That said, we have seen some prisoners be released and go on to help start community gardens after their release.

Mark's been working with the officials at the correctional facility to see if HMO can overcome some of the obstacles that may cause them to have to cease operations. Communication has been a challenge. We see all the wonderful attributes of the prisoners, but sometimes key people in charge at the prison don't. Rather than get upset at the situation, we're seeing that the blessings we have to offer others can be expressed elsewhere in another or more robust way.

Whatever happens, we're grateful that we've had this opportunity to bless, and we're looking forward to new opportunities. To that end, the US Hwy 395 Farm Stand in Minden, Nevada, is an example of how we have expanded the program. This two-acre site has a newly constructed greenhouse, two hoop houses, and a dozen raised beds, as well as a small farm store that sells everything organic. It helps support that which is local and sustainable.

In addition, FOCUS and HMO are negotiating with a major local university to work with their College of Agriculture, Bio-Technology and Natural Resources to assist in the development and operation of a high desert farming initiative which will be on campus and include both undergraduates and post graduates. This program will teach these students principle-based methods for growing within a greenhouse environment in a manner which supports the practice of sustainable organic farming. The program will work collaboratively with the local food bank and co-operative. We're eager to see how building a grass roots program with college students can make a positive difference.

Joe Smith, CA