As part of a strategy to support community gardens and highlight their value as neighborhood institutions, PHS created City Harvest, a project that taps the natural generosity of gardeners, teaches skills to incarcerated people seeking to reinvent their lives, and brings nutritious food to people in need. City Harvest was launched as a pilot project with a $250,000 two-year grant from The Albert M. Greenfield Foundation which was renewed for a second two years.
Through City Harvest, inmates of the Philadelphia Prison System start vegetable seedlings in a greenhouse at its facility in Northeast Philadelphia. The seedlings are then grown to maturity at dozens of community gardens, as well as the Prison’s own garden. SHARE, a nonprofit network that provides food to food cupboards, facilitates distribution of the produce, while the Health Promotion Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania provides nutrition education to food cupboard clients.
An important educational aspect of City Harvest is helping prepare the inmates for reentry into society. The gardening curriculum at the Prison touches on earth science and basic math, as well as construction skills, working with cut flowers, and cooking. The EP Henry Corporation offers on-site training in installation of its paving products. “Programs like this help make inmates valuable members of society and provide them with a new skill for when they return to their lives,” says Philadelphia Prison System commissioner Leon King II. “It’s planting a seed of potential.”
City Harvest produced more than 7,500 pounds of fresh vegetables during its first growing season, and the goal is to expand the network of supporters and participants to produce more food for those in need.
“It’s an impressive output considering the gardeners and the food cupboard staff are all volunteers,” notes project manager Eileen Gallagher.
SHARE executive director Steveanna Wynn agrees: “The most powerful thing about the program is the number of people from various walks of life who have come together to make this happen.”
City Harvest has increased the availability of fresh, healthful food for many low-income families in Philadelphia, and it also touches the lives of everyone involved, according to Philadelphia Green senior director Joan Reilly. “The project is empowering city gardeners to help their neighbors in a meaningful way,” she says, “while giving prison inmates tools for a better life.”
Check out the Philadelphia Green Project's site