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Contained in the East Oakland Plant Nursery That is Breaking the Incarceration Cycle

Contained in the East Oakland Plant Nursery That is Breaking the Incarceration Cycle


Luis Sr. Ortega mulches and re-pots nursery vegetation, that are sourced as cuttings from Planting Justice’s “mom” farm in El Sobrante. (Courtesy of Birhon Quizhpe, Planting Justice)

Strolling into Planting Justice’s East Oakland nursery appears like strolling into an city oasis. 

Its grounds, within the Sobrante Park neighborhood, are a patchwork of multicolored vegetation. Rows of fruit timber—apples, figs, Asian pears, European pears, Japanese plums, pomegranates, jujube, quince, loquat and extra—fill the house. It’s onerous to even stroll in a straight line. From this 2-acre lot, Planting Justice sells greater than 1,100 sorts of vegetation—a lot of them onerous to seek out, and appropriate for a spread of local weather zones—and ships them throughout the continental United States. Generally demand has even outstripped the nursery’s capability. However past the booming plant enterprise, Planting Justice makes use of its nursery as a device for social change—to finish the cycle of incarceration. 

“No person’s received our form of re-entry program that mixes soil, reentry, therapeutic, and good pay,” says operations director Lynn Vidal. The nonprofit, based in 2009, has employed greater than 40 individuals transitioning from jail up to now, many on the nursery. To this point, the group has seen a 2 p.c recidivism charge, in comparison with 50 p.c statewide, based on Vidal.

Clockwise from prime left: Planting Justice’s Sobrante Park nursery; the flags adorning its grounds; Sol Mercado tends vegetation. (Courtesy of Sol Mercado)

Close to the doorway hold cyanotype flags, some made with orange jail jumpsuits—all printed with messages like “construct gardens, not prisons” and “hawthorne, not handcuffs.” A greenhouse peeks out from the nook, and a grey cat prowls between backyard beds. Workers members graft, plant, have a tendency, and harvest, and the nursery thrums with vitality and motion. Many of the plant cuttings are sourced at Planting Justice’s 4-acre “mom” farm in El Sobrante; then they arrive right here to mature and be shipped out to their new lives.

Sol Mercado, the re-entry coordinator, says the group meets the wants of previously incarcerated individuals throughout “a really essential time” of transition. She skilled it firsthand. Mercado first encountered Planting Justice by means of a jail gardening program. “I used to be weeding, and I used to be pruning and watering,” Mercado says, “and I used to be in a position to have that point to actually assume and course of what led to me committing my crime, and the way do I wish to heal—and the way I by no means wish to be the identical individual once more once I get out of right here.” 

Mercado was launched three years in the past at age 35, after 16 years in jail, and began working at Planting Justice nearly instantly. “Being right here, working, and feeling the soundness, has helped me lots to get my life so as,” Mercado says; Planting Justice has “given me the chance to be the individual that I wished to be.” 

From left: Yennifer Copto and Adela Flores transplant timber; Simone Robinson is among the many workers members who have a tendency, transplant, and ship greater than 1,100 sorts of vegetation. (Courtesy of Planting Justice)

Along with the nursery enterprise, Planting Justice teaches gardening and meals sovereignty to younger individuals, and distributes contemporary produce and free timber to native communities. It has additionally helped native neighborhoods arrange greater than 450 neighborhood gardens, and previously labored on a jail gardening program. It’s additionally constructing an East Oakland aquaponics incubation farm and a pay-what-you-can cafe.

For a lot of workers members, this work is private. “I grew up right here, I’ve been right here perpetually, I’m fourth or fifth era proper right here,” says Covonne Web page, aquaponics incubation farm supervisor. His hopes for the group: “For this place to run by itself and be capable of proceed to make use of individuals from this neighborhood and provides them a wage the place they will truly dwell and never need to wrestle.” 

Freeway 880 sits simply south of the nursery, and the din of vehicles and the occasional helicopter is a continuing. “Lots of crime occurs again there, gunshots—it impacts us lots,” says Web page. The answer, Mercado and others on workers say, is discovering “everlasting fixes” for resourcing the Sobrante Park neighborhood. 

Planting Justice presents one path ahead. The group brings assets and company to these in the neighborhood, says Vidal, and it’s a mannequin that many on workers hope might be replicated in different areas. “Planting Justice is the long run, in my estimation,” says Vidal, and “it begins one neighborhood at a time.”


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