Opportunity farm gives former prison inmates second chance in Washtenaw County

A unique farm in Washtenaw County is helping men and women released from prison till the soil and create a path for a better future.

Melvin Parsons spent 13 years in and out of incarceration and wanted something more for his life.

"Our mission is to break the cycle of incarceration in Washtenaw County," he said. "Our motto is to change the soil of those we come in contact with."  

Parsons founded the nonprofit farming system named "We the People, Opportunity Farming." It provided a nine-month, paid internship program for men and women returning home from incarceration.

"The thing that I learned most in my short time farming, is that it is all about the soil," said Parsons. "Meaning that if your soil is good, the chances are your plants will flourish. And if your soil is not, chances are that it won't."

With that in mind, and with his own experiences, Parsons wanted to give people re-entering society a chance at a better future.

"I grew up in a really good home, I had some amazing parents, but my neighborhood kind of over-rode that," he said.

Eventually, Parsons was able to break that cycle. In 2016 he graduated from Eastern Michigan's School of Social Work and made the human connection to good soil.

"Using farming or growing food as the vehicle, to match up some of their needs and objectives, find out what those were , and while they were with us in this program to help them achieve."

Val Bush currently is in the program he spent 30 years in and out of incarceration.

"It is beneficial, it helps you out," he said. "You are learning something, you can get a trade in the long run. You learn how to plant, do compost."

"One of the things I have been thinking about a lot in talking with one of my thought partners is what does kindness and dignity mean,' he said. "Even though it doesn't solve all of the world's problems, it goes a long way."