Staying on track when the path keeps zigzagging

A Second Chances Farms blog by Ajit Mathew George

Sir Richard Branson is often credited with the saying, “If dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” As the year 2020 draws to an end, I admit to you that my dreams for Second Chances Farm have scared me far more often than I want to admit. What a ride it has been.

On January 6, 2020, when I pulled the trigger to turn this dream of mine called “Second Chances Farm” into reality by hiring the first cohort of returning citizens who were formerly incarcerated, I had no idea how challenging 2020 would be. All startups are nerve-racking, but as a veteran entrepreneur, I thought I knew what I was getting into. But COVID scattered my best-laid plans like a tropical hurricane. We had to learn how to pivot to stay alive in these trying circumstances – to carve out a track when the path continued to zigzag.

It often seems that planning beyond the Coronavirus is an exercise in futility, especially in communities that are disparately devastated by the pandemic. Yet, our plans for Second Chances Farm in Opportunity Zones in Wilmington, North Philadelphia, Chicago and Las Vegas, all of which are in fresh-food deserts, will hopefully upend neighborhoods plagued by economic inequities and innovate in a way that transforms lives and social outcomes while addressing urban blight and economic decline.

Second Chances Farm hopes to jumpstart the lives of formerly incarcerated persons by providing a path of hope for the hopeless and by becoming a model for compassionate capitalism. We believe the best way to stop people from re-offending and returning to prison is to help them see a future worth working toward.

Fulfilling my dream depends upon that concept of “compassionate capitalism.” At Second Chances Farm, we’ve established a for-profit business model that is sustainable long-term because it is profitable. That’s the capitalism part.

But inextricably interwoven in the model is compassion – for our returning citizens, our disadvantaged neighbors, and local people living in food deserts. That’s why we’re located in an Opportunity Zone in the poorest area of Wilmington. That’s why we invest time developing partnerships that support the delivery food to Riverside, Wilmington, New Castle, and other forgotten neighborhoods. That’s why we’re investing in educating children and their parents on ways to eat healthy.

Of course, I strongly support non-profits in their mission and work to help people in crisis. But our business model is different: we want to give people the tools to become entrepreneurs in their own right – again, capitalists – to be successful in the future. And we hope, in turn, they may take on that mission to reach out to help nurture and train others going forward.  

If there is any reason why we continue to be disrupters for good with our social impact project, please read this letter — published with permission — that I received this past weekend from someone I don’t know. 

November 28, 2020

Dear Mr. George:
I am writing to you in hopes I can gather information regarding Second Chances Farm.   

My nephew is presently in Pauling County Jail. His life’s story you most likely have heard and seen time and again. He got into a wrong group; trying to find acceptance by someone. Liam got himself in trouble with stealing, drugs took them) while he was dreaming for help inside... some direction... abusive home life starting at a very young age. 

Liam is 19; had no childhood, as you and I may have known it. He is a good good soul. Just a rotten home life.

Liam almost graduated from high school but all the above was instrumental in why he didn’t. While in school he found agriculture very interesting and was going to further that education after graduation. He went from getting student of the month(s) to where he is... It’s a long painful life story.

His grandmother (my sister) he adores... he talks with her often (every day). I have been trying to help her deal with this crisis in her life mostly because she is battling breast cancer during all of Liam’s problems.  

While looking for an agricultural future for him once released, my sister and I came across Second Chances Farm! We have been so excited about your wonderful program and I decided I’d write to you get more information on top of the very informative info on your site. Starting with the first step to completing what has to be done... I imagine an application to start. Would you be so kind as to provide me with this info and anything else to start the process of getting accepted into your stellar program. 

Mr. George, this young man’s life. I know with the proper mentoring and guidance, can change and he can be a stellar human being if given the chance... he needs to know he belongs, self-worth and love.

I am hopeful with your help; giving Liam a second chance would be the beginning of a life yet to be lived. Thank you for any and all considerations. I will continue to pray that my prayers are being heard. 

Sincerely, with thankfulness for your continued success in making this world a better place.  

Susie Fricano
Greensboro, Georgia

This poignant letter embodies the compelling reasons why Second Chances Farm is needed in communities throughout the United States. 

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Today, less than a year after we opened our doors at 3030 Bowers Street, Second Chances Farm, LLC is the first commercial indoor hydroponic vertical farm in Delaware and one of the leading “smart farms” in the United States. More than 40 returning citizens have come to work, and some have come to stay. We’re a business, a support system, and a family. We are a public benefit corporation, certified minority business enterprise, a qualified opportunity fund and a Foreign Trade Zone. Our compassionate capitalism has created something entirely new: a for-profit solution to a non-profit problem. 

For more information:
Second Chances Farm
www.secondchancesfarm.com

 


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