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Former Black Panther Runs An Urban Farm to Give Ex-Prisoners a Fresh Start

As a former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown is no stranger to radical ideas. The 72-year-old has been an advocate on behalf of prisoners for many years. And now she’s determined to transform a vacant lot in West Oakland, California into a thriving urban farm business that employs former offenders.

Brown was chairwoman for the Black Panthers from 1974 to 1977, and after more than a 30-years away from the city, moved back to Oakland in 2010.

She first announced her project in October of 2014. The first step of her plan was to establish West Oakland Farms, a for-profit farm whose 40 raised beds are already overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, kale, squash, corn, and other produce.

Her plans for the future, include a juice bar, fitness center, grocery store, and tech design space, along with affordable housing on the city-owned property under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization she founded last year, Oakland & the World Enterprises.

“I’m not in the farm business,” she told Civil Eats recently. “I’m in the business of creating opportunities for Black men and women who are poor and lack the education, skills, and resources to return to a community that is rapidly gentrifying without economic avenues for them in mind.”

A good way to describe it, would be part prisoner re-entry program, part small business startup incubator, and part community hub. West Oakland Farms, functions as a post-prison support program, by giving individuals the chance to find employment. Each worker actually owns a piece of the garden. It’s an opportunity many ex-cons couldn’t have imagined coming out of prison. The farm, currently employs 10 former inmates on a part-time, rotating basis and pays them $20 an hour. It has also landed its first culinary client contract: Picán Restaurant, an upscale Southern-influenced restaurant in the city’s lively Uptown district, and one of the few Black-owned restaurants in the area.

“This is not a panacea, it’s a model,” she says. “People come out of the joint with nothing to do and $200 in their pocket. Once that money runs out … they’ll do anything to survive, including hitting somebody in the head for $20.” We have to create positive opportunities for these people to return to the community.”



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Thomas Wilson March 13, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Is it just me or does that one guy in the picture look like a nut job??

Marisol May 3, 2016 at 8:35 pm

It’s just you….

Damie May 28, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Wtf? What one guy? All I see are women. ???

Lore May 16, 2017 at 4:50 am

That’s a slick answer to a chigelnlang question

Laqueta Cartwright March 16, 2016 at 11:59 pm

I would love a work opportunity

Ivan Butcher II May 3, 2016 at 6:57 am

Independent Contracting

A solution and a better use of our human resources here would be independent contracting.

All are not college bound. When we send our children out into society without a viable trade or a marketable skill, we are breeding generations of beggars, criminals, thieves, welfare recipients or they leave. No child should leave school without a trade. Those college students with a trade could easily supplement their education without going into deep student loan debt.

In today’s economic atmosphere, it would be more of an advantage for individuals to offer their services oppose to asking for a job. An independent contractor would still have the ability to work for someone and for themselves. As an independent contractor your services would be made more marketable.

The biggest drawback from this licensing status  is that the independent contractor is responsible for their own taxes, pension, health and life insurance. A solution  is to find an established  group insurance provider that would pick up these artisans, or to create a group health and insurance plan to accommodate this group. 

The benefits from this licensing arrangement would help to encourage and to establish a home cottage industry, increase the tax base, reduce unemployment and welfare, including addressing some of our social ills caused by the lack of work opportunities and self-esteem. 

Tony Evans May 23, 2016 at 12:32 pm

I agree that independent contacting is an effective solution. When I worked as a contractor for the US government it raised my standard of living and provided a platform where my skills could be put to work. Your post is very well written and thought provoking. Keep up the good work, sir!

Black Panther Runs Urban Farm to Give Ex-Prisoners a Fresh Start | Mound City NorthStar May 9, 2016 at 7:03 pm

[…] For more on Elaine Brown’s work with ex-offenders, click here. […]

Freestyle Friday // 003 | CHRISTIAN TOTTY June 3, 2016 at 11:43 am

[…] a vacant lot in West Oakland into an Urban Farm that will employ former offenders, aptly called West Oakland Farms. Pure #BlackGirlMagic, if you ask […]

Freestyle Friday: Volume 20 | C H R I S T I A N T O T T Y June 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

[…] a vacant lot in West Oakland into an Urban Farm that will employ former offenders, aptly called West Oakland Farms. Pure #BlackGirlMagic, if you ask […]

Jennifer Lumpkin August 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm

I am an independent contractor/entrepreneur and finding work as a Black woman in this field can be a challenge. I do agree that finding freedom exists in independent contracting and finding work can be difficult.


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