Texas Prison Urban Farming Program Teaches Future Work Skills

Over 2 million US men, women, and children live behind bars. People on both sides of the political aisle want prison reform. While politicians argue about how to accomplish meaningful prison reform, a small school district in Texas is making things happen.

The Windham School District in Huntsville, Texas, achieved another milestone serving the educational needs of eligible inmates. Windham School District is now the first school in the nation to be endorsed by the Aquaponics Association for its Urban Farming program.

Windham’s Urban Farming program teaches incarcerated students how to grow fresh herbs and produce without soil inside the prison walls.

The Windham School District provides education to incarcerated students inside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. With 22.2 million future jobs in agriculture and the food sector, the school established an Urban Farming program to set students up for success.

The Windham School District is a non-geographical school system serving the education needs of inmates in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Windham School District provides educational programs to meet the needs of the eligible offender population.

The district recognizes the growing importance of the agricultural industry. This job training program will provide students with new skills for future employment. Windham teaches literacy and promotes adult secondary education to reduce recidivism and help students transition to meaningful careers and full employment after serving their time.

The school encourages technical skills training to teach life skills to help inmates become better parents, friends, and citizens.

Image used with permission from Windham ISD

The Urban Farming program teaches students the fundamentals of horticulture and landscaping. In the prison setting, the lack of fresh soil limits educational opportunities. The Windham school took an innovative approach. The district partnered with the Aquaponics Association to open the doors to new ways of farming.

Aquaponic and hydroponic technologies use fish and aquatic animals to produce the nutrients necessary to grow plants without soil. Fish in tanks provide nutrient-rich water to create a natural fertilizer for plants.

The Aquaponics industry is changing the way we grow food. Windham students are learning cutting-edge ways to grow fresh herbs and produce without the need for dirt. The Aquaponics Association is collaborating with Windham to create a hands-on learning experience and future certification opportunities for students.

Photo: josefkubes Istock/Getty Image

The students have an opportunity to learn science, technology, engineering, and math in the Urban farming program. Inmates who complete the program earn a third-party, industry-recognized certificate to help with future employment opportunities.

Right now, 90 students have enrolled in the Urban Farming program. After completing the curriculum, these students will graduate with an Aquaponics Association Certificate, Servesafe Food Handler Certification, Texas Certified Landscape Associate (TCLA) Certification, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Certificate, and Windham Urban Farming Certificate.

One of the district’s goals is to help former inmates obtain and maintain employment. All of these documents increase the chances a graduate will find a job after release. Students will qualify in industries such as landscaping, culinary, plumbing, and business.

“The district’s Urban Farming program began last year, and it’s amazing to see how much it has grown in this short amount of time,” WSD Superintendent Kristina Hartman said. “Our team works hard to continuously improve the program and develop innovative curriculum for our students. This new endorsement is a testament to the strength of the program and will be valuable in providing our students with an exceptional education and future employment opportunities.”

The Aquaponics Association hopes to expand the Urban farming program beyond the Hunstville location. This pilot program may be expanded to other correctional facilities offering inmates aquaponic educational opportunities.

The Aquaponics Association Chairman Brian Filipowich stated, “Everyone needs to eat, but not everyone has access to arable soil. Through their system, Windham School District has shown the potential of using aquaponics systems to grow organic food in any environment successfully.”


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Dr Jeff Livingston
Dr Jeff Livingston
Jeff is Co-Founder of Medika Life. He is a Board Certified Obgyn and CEO of MacArthur Medical Center in Irving, Texas. He is a nationally recognized thought leader, speaker, writer, blogger, and practicing physician who is considered an expert in the use of social media to educate patients, using new and innovative technology to improve care outcomes and the patient experience.

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