GrowingChange youth participant Clifton, program founder Noran Sanford, and youth participant Robert harvest food for needy families in their region.

Few projects solve—or even address—several problems at once.  GrowingChange is one that does.  GrowingChange is a youth empowered, nonprofit organization that is designed to address several tough problems that challenge North Carolina:

·        the numbers of young people entering the penal system;

·        a county with no locally grown, sustainable produced food;

·        joblessness among wounded warriors returning from deployment;

·        health disparities between African-Americans, Latinos, and whites;

·        decreasing numbers of small farms and independent farmers,

·        abandoned Brownfield properties decaying into dysfunction; and

·        declining health outcomes among the rural poor.

How can GrowingChange address all these challenges?  Three words: reclaim, attain, and sustain



The view from the front guard tower at the closed Scotland Correctional Center in Wagram NC, the first site for a prison flip.

GrowingChange salvages places and people that have been abandoned by converting a defunct prison site into a sustainable farm and education center.  This is done by repurposing a decaying Brownfields site into an expansive, year-round farm and education center.  Young people on the edge of the criminal justice system will be redirected toward an engagement that gives them life skills and job training while providing clinical support therapy.   The existing watershed of the scenic Lumber River that has been compromised from years of neglect will be restored.  Returning veterans at a loss for job opportunities will take on leadership roles and help guide the program’s youth while learning sustainable farming techniques while working toward a university degree in environmental science and sustainable agriculture.



GrowingChange helps program participants and members of the broader community achieve education, vocational training, and service learning experience by providing  job training to young people who have agreed to complete a number of hours working on the farm as an alternative to entering the court system.  Students on probation can direct their community service hours to the farm while learning skills, working cooperatively with others, and receiving clinical therapy.  GrowingChange will conduct educational outreach to public school students in Farm-to-Classroom programs and field trips.   Adults and children can take part in multiple and varied summer enrichment programs and day camps that will share the farming experience.  The farm will be a fieldwork site for the sustainable agriculture program at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and will include a vocational training setting for students enrolled in Richmond Community College’s Associate of Science degree program.  For members of the broader community, GrowingChange will provide a commercial-grade community kitchen where the county cooperative extension service will provide training on preparing and preserving food; the commercial kitchen will also serve as a classroom for RCC students receiving training in foodservice and culinary arts.  The entire farm—the fields, the animal barns, and the building—will be a resource for the community as a whole, offering a gallery of student artwork, a museum of the prison’s colorful history, opportunities for entrepreneurship, and more.




GrowingChange.org youth leader Terrrence Smith shows off worms as he demonstrates how vermicompost aids in soil development.

All of the successes that this program achieves will be for naught if they can’t be sustained; one-third of GrowingcChange’s mission is dedicated to ensuring that its accomplishments are lasting.  Because GrowingcChange focuses on education and training, it’s providing skills that don’t diminish.  The knowledge that young participants gain—whether it’s growing food or working out a dispute peacefully—will serve them throughout their lives, giving them the ability to feed themselves and their families, the skills to succeed in a workplace, and experience being productive members of their community.  Ongoing positive health outcomes will result from the paradigm shift away from processed foods toward fresh, locally grown produce; exercise that farming requires will benefit the participants’ fitness.  Veterans taking part in GrowingcChange will have developed farming and leadership skills that they can carry forward.   If they have studied sustainable agriculture at UNCP, they can enter the job market with a college degree valued in the growing field of sustainable agri-business.  Food crops produced at GrowingcChange farm will be sold to local restaurants and CSAs; the business enterprise aspect of the GrowingcChange farm will allow the program to self-sustain, once it is established.  GrowingcChange’s commitment to sustainable farming and protection of the environment are a means of supporting the region’s sensitive ecosystem. 

PHOTO SOURCE: http://wunc.org/post/teens-help-turn-abandoned-north-carolina-prisons-farms, 04 FEB 2015,  NPR Article “Teens Help Turn Abandoned North Carolina Prisons Into Farms“.