Good News: Could police use a farm to create jobs, build community and feed and heal people?

Alameda Police Department's Dig Deep Farms currently operates 6 farms and provides daily relief for those experiencing food insecurity. Credit:  Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Activities League

By Olivia Salzwedel, Alliance Intern from University of Minnesota Morris ’22

California’s Alameda Police Department (APD) saw a need to address the simmering tension and lack of trust with its community, while lowering the crime and re-incarceration rates and improving the county’s overall quality of life. According to Civil Eats, APD Captain Marty Neideffer and APD’s Activities League head Hillary Bass were inspired by Van Jones’ The Green Collar Economy to create urban Dig Deep Farms (DDF). They began with a plot by a fire station and a gravel-filled lot and now have expanded to 6 farms covering more than 100 acres.

DDF provides internships and jobs to formerly incarcerated people in permaculture design and farm operation, allowing them to earn $20-40 an hour. The program has reduced the recidivism rate 4% from 2019 to 2021, according to the Alameda County Board while building community engagement. According to Bass, “it’s a no-brainer” to “create some opportunities economically” while beautifying the earth and feeding people healthy food. “If nothing changes in the hometown you’re going back to, why would your behaviors change?” she adds. 

Not only does DDF provide internships and jobs for formerly incarcerated people, it collaborates with innovators like Steven Chen, the owner of a holistic medicine practice called ALL IN. Chen states that 90% of the $3.9 trillion health care industry in the US goes to chronic disease. In contrast, ALL IN’s Recipe4Health is a food as medicine program that prescribes Dig Deep Farm’s fresh produce and brings it directly to someone’s door as a form of medicine to aid chronic illness symptoms.

In addition to collaborating with medical practices, DDF is expanding with the help of former inmate and DDF intern Kate Thomas. She is now co-director of DDF’s FOOD HUB.  It functions as a space for the Deputy Sherriff’s Activities League food recovery program, packing and distributing excess farm food and transporting it to low-income housing in the county. The League’s Impact Report also states that Dig Deep Farms has doubled their staff numbers and has served approximately 6,749 recipients of recovered food, with over 1,884,581 pounds of recovered, donated or delivered food

One of the outreach efforts of the APD has been to Spanish speaking immigrants with traumatic experiences with the police. Bass believes, “This is the kind of moment in time that could change that trajectory,” and adds that they can succeed “if we could ultimately have Dig Deep spin off, to be a collective, regenerative, farmer-owned entity.”

Neideffer and Bass’s Dig Deep Farm began with 15 farmers and 2 parcels of land, but last year the county board approved a $4.8 million expansion of their property to a 90-acre historic farm. This enables the farm to employ another 10 farmers, further reducing the recidivism rate and providing more food to chronic illness patients, members of low-income housing, and to the overall Alameda community. This is the kind of inspiring model that could make a difference in many of our troubled communities.

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