Benevolence Farm is a North Carolina social enterprise that cultivates leadership and catalyzes structural change among women impacted by the criminal justice system through living-wage, eco-conscious employment.
Tayna Jisa had recently moved to North Carolina and was rethinking her career when she stumbled upon a NYTimes article on incarceration. She was stunned to learn that 1 in every 100 people were currently behind bars in the United States, and she wondered what could be done to change that statistic. Concurrently, she’d been attending farming conferences and learning more about local food, farming and social entrepreneurship.
She began some market research: talking with farmers about lowering recidivism through a farm where previously incarcerated women could live and work; and speaking with the women themselves about their experiences and what would have been helpful to them before, during and after prison. Tanya learned that, since the 1980s, the rate of incarcerated women has increased by more than 700%. Formerly incarcerated women face extreme obstacles finding non-exploitative employment opportunities upon release. And yet, the number of women-focused re-entry support systems was practically non-existent in the rural South.
After many conversations and plenty of additional research, Tanya had formed a small group of people committed to addressing this shortage of housing, employment and wraparound services for formerly incarcerated women. In 2016, Benevolence Farm, a 13-acre farm in Graham, North Carolina, opened its door to its first resident. Since then, the organization has welcomed 27 women home, and supported dozens of others as they navigate the challenges of reentry.
In addition to support services, Benevolence Farm provides living-wage employment through their Body Care line – a collection of handcrafted soaps, candles and salves. All body care products are created by farm residents, and infused with flowers and herbs that the women grow on the farm using organic practices. They are also intentional about preparing and packaging their products sustainably, with the ultimate goal of eliminating first-use plastic.
Empowerment through skills training and employment is life-changing. As one Benevolence Farm alumna who served 27 years in a North Carolina prison shared, “the biggest thing the Benevolence Farm Body Care line did for me was help me gain confidence. I found out that I could do things I had never done and do them right. I was able to hone my inventory skill, packaging and shipping, and become more efficient at using the internet for research. After working on small batches and adjusting recipes, I realized that I truly have mathematical ability. The Body Care line also helped me learn techniques to handle team conflicts. It also helped me come to the realization that I am good at talking to strangers and crowds during markets or other events where we sold our products. I learned a lot about the body and the healing properties of nature. I also found out that I do have a creative side and was able to tap into it.”
Benevolence Farm continues to dream big. Ultimately, they are working to build a product line that brings customers joy, healing and relaxation while providing financial independence to the women they serve. In 2019, they sold $5,000 in products. In 2020, they grew to $38,000 and now, they’re aiming for $100,000 in revenue. By achieving this goal, they will provide more living-wage opportunities to the women in their community. Benevolence Farm also hopes to launch an affiliate program for formerly incarcerated women nationwide, so they can join the Body Care enterprise family and have another source of income, even if they do not live on the farm.
To learn more about Benevolence Farm, check out their member directory profile.