The Garden Project
This is not a story about a typical farmer family coming to sell their home-grown organic produce at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. It's about a very special program called The Garden Project that provides an opportunity to just-released inmates of the San Francisco County Jail to restructure their lives after they leave prison by working as organic farmers and teaching them a trade. Every Saturday from early May through November, you'll find the "fruits" of their labor for sale at The Garden Project stand on the east side of the Market opposite the Ferry Building.
How It Started
The idea of teaching former inmates to become gardeners was originally conceived by Catherine Sneed while she was working with prisoners as a counselor at San Francisco's County Jail No. 3 in San Bruno in the Jail's Horticulture Project. In that successful 6-year program , prisoners work on a 10-acre garden within the prison grounds and learn to become gardeners. But Catherine was finding that once these "gardeners" left prison, they weren't able to find jobs and often fell back into their former pattern of crime and drug abuse.
In 1992, sponsored by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and with donations from San Francisco companies and private foundations, Catherine launched The Garden Project. She started by convincing Elliot Hoffman of Just Desserts to donate a ½ acre piece of land on Carroll Street in the Hunter's Point section of San Francisco. On that land, she set up a garden and began offering former inmates an opportunity to work as gardeners for a $6.00/hour wage. The Garden Project currently accommodates about 125 employees. It requires each employee to work a minimum of 16 hours a week and to earn a high school diploma if they don't already have one. According to a recent study, the results have been impressive. Those who have worked at The Garden Project had a recidivism rate of only 24% compared to nearly 55% for the average post-release population.
Cool Weather Vegetables
With a garden located in the city limits of San Francisco, these organic gardeners have had to adapt what they grow to San Francisco's foggy, cool summers. As a result, they specialize in herbs, lettuce, arugula, radishes, chives, kale, beets and spinach. Of special note are their tiny arugula leaves and beautiful bunches of dainty radishes as well the charming bouquets of informal, home garden-type flowers they put together.
Until the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Market began in 1993, regular customers of The Garden Project's produce were Bay Area restaurants such as Chez Panisse, Lulu, Rubicon, Hayes Street Grill and Fog City Diner. Giving employees an opportunity to sell directly to customer's at the Market was Catherine's idea as a way to train them to interact with the public and to see a different aspect of life than they would see in the normal daily lives.
Everyone who visits the Saturday Market should make a point to buy something from these hard-working and budding organic gardeners! Donations to The Garden Project to help support its activities would also be welcomed.
Saturday Market Home Page
To contact the vendor, please use information at the top of this page.