An initiative in Alamance County is bringing both hope and opportunity to women who were formerly incarcerated. Benevolence Farm, located at 4265 Thompson Mill Road in Graham, is intended to help these women attain life skills and critical training to assist them over the long term.
According to its website (benevolencefarm.org), Benevolence Farm’s mission is to “cultivate leadership, promote sustainable livelihoods, and reap structural change with individuals impacted by the criminal justice system in North Carolina.”
“Benevolence Farm is a non-profit social enterprise that provides employment and housing opportunities to formerly incarcerated women,” said Interim Executive Director Kristen Powers in a recent interview with the Enterprise. “Our mission is to cultivate leadership, promote sustainable livelihoods, and reap structural change with individuals impacted by the criminal justice system in North Carolina. We operate a 13-acre farm in Southern Alamance County where both our housing and employment programs take place.”
When women are preparing for a new life outside of the North Carolina criminal justice system, they can apply to join the Benevolence Farm program.
“People interested in applying to our program can submit an application before their release from prison,” explained Powers. “We also accept women thirty days after their release. Occasionally, the Alamance County probation office or a prison case manager will submit a recommendation.”
According to Powers, women can live at Benevolence Farm for up to two years after their release from prison. Once they arrive, they are guaranteed a home and employment.
“Our employment program is tied to both our farm and body care enterprise,” Powers said. “Every time somebody makes a purchase from these enterprises, the profits go straight to the women's living wages. We also have a programming component that helps women meet their basic needs — healthcare, substance use recovery, financial independence, etc. — all of our programming is centered in trauma-informed care. We have a recidivism rate of less than 4.5 percent, whereas the national average is around 40 percent.
Some of the farm goods that are available for sale from Benevolence Farm include body care items such as soaps, lip balms, and shaving kits, as well as home decor such as candles.
“During this time of year, we highly recommend our body care enterprise as you consider your holiday gifts,” Powers said. “Benevolence Farm residents design and make the products, infusing each one with an herb or flower they grow on the farm. This year, we are offering items such as candles, healing salve, lip balm, and shaving kits.”
Benevolence Farm has already helped several women coming out of the criminal justice system, and is currently helping numerous others in the program.
Many of the women coming out of prison had their official home plan as "homeless" in their records,” Powers said. “Unfortunately, many of the women do not have the ability to access family support. Therefore, we intervene by providing a safe and secure home and a job while women figure out their next steps. It is nearly impossible for many women to find an affordable home and a job, considering they do not earn much, if any, money in prison and their records often make rental and job applications difficult, if not impossible.
Benevolence Farm recently took part in Small Business Saturday, and is also taking part in numerous other opportunities to expose its products to the local community in the coming weeks leading up to the Holidays,
“On December 6, we will be attending Elodie Farm's Open Air Market in Rougemont. Tickets are required in advance,” Powers said. “We will also be participating in Freehand Market's A Very 2020 Holiday Maker Pop-Up Series in Saxapahaw on Saturday, December 12. Finally, we have partnered up with three local businesses to offer an Authentically Alamance Gift Box - a great idea for local friends and family that supports Alamance County small businesses.”
Benevolence Farm’s end-of-year fundraising goal is $30,000. This amount will help the organization expand the number of hours it can offer to formerly incarcerated women as part of their employment program. If you would like to help them reach this goal and become a sustaining donor, visit benevolencefarm.org.