The green jobs for ex-cons movement continues thanks to a Chicago-based program. The Windy City Harvest program, sponsored by the Chicago Botanic Garden, operates a three-quarter acre vegetable farm inside the gates of a Cook County Sheriff's office military-style boot camp. Inmates maintain the garden and several former inmates have continued to focus on urban gardening upon their release.


Darius Jones (19), Walter Ford (21) and Thomas Kelly (30) have all enrolled in the Windy City Harvest program to expand upon the knowledge they gained while working on the garden during their stay at the boot camp. The three individuals are not only expanding their knowledge of sustainable agriculture but they are also gaining valuable job skills and working towards a certificate in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture through the Windy City Harvest’s partnership with the City College of Chicago.


These three individuals and the urban agriculture program were the subject of a recent article in The New York Times: "An Urban Garden Prepares Inmates for Green-Collar Jobs."


"Their histories are painfully similar: guns, gangs, drugs and death. Yet they have come a long way, from slinging drugs on the corner to shoveling dirt in the garden. They are the first former inmates to make it this far since Windy City Harvest, or W.C.H., began overseeing the boot camp garden in 2009. They have a few weeks left of classroom work to complete the nine-month course, which includes instruction in greenhouse and outdoor growing methods and Powerpoint classroom presentations on farm management, marketing and other business practices."


If you're surprised to learn about the urban garden then you'll be even more surprised to know that it isn't the only eco-minded skills initiative in place for Cook County jail inmates. There is also an electronics recycling training program available for those incarcerated in Cook County and a solar farm project is in the planning stages.

From gangs to green jobs
Three Chicago area men are turning their lives around thanks to an urban gardening program.