DAYTON, Ohio — Supermarket retail consultant and restaurateur Howard Solganik has launched a program that puts ex-offenders to work helping area farmers — an endeavor that already has helped increase the supply of local, seasonal produce accessible to consumers.
Called the TransPlant Project, it has matched up pre-screened ex-offenders this summer with another Solganik project, the Farm 2 Fork Fresh Community Supported Agriculture group, which has a partnership with Dorothy Lane Market here.
“My experience in the restaurant business exposed me to ex-offenders. I saw that most were hard workers and also were grateful for the jobs they were given,” Solganik said.
“I realized small farms have a difficult time finding workers, and then, I thought about ex-offenders trying, so often in vain, to find jobs.
So he decided to put the two ideas together and crafted a detailed proposal, which he presented to state and county agencies.
The timing was right because Montgomery County had just recently formed a countywide community reentry task force.
“Howard brought his proposal to us and we embraced it, enthusiastically,” said U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice, who is co-chair of the county's reentry task force.
“It's good for the community in at least two ways. The more fresh farm produce that gets to market, the easier it is for people to buy locally grown, healthful food,” Rice said.
“At the same time, in a broader sense, it benefits the community by enabling ex-offenders to make a living. If they can work and support their families, they're less likely to commit more crime, and be incarcerated again.”
The judge told SN the cost to the state of Ohio to send someone to prison and keep them there for a year is $25,000. By contrast, it costs less than 10% of that to supervise them in the community.
Another fact of life is that it's generally difficult for businesses to find a good worker who is grateful to have a relatively low-paying job that requires physical labor. But after serving a prison sentence, find that very few people will offer them jobs of any kind, even though, as Solganik pointed out, 70% of convictions result from a single questionable decision, such as illegal possession of drugs.
He added that since small farming operations are always looking for labor, and ex-offenders are looking for jobs, he thought this would be a good match.
“It's good for the farmer, the ex-offender and the community. It's especially timely now since there is so much interest in local product, organics and sustainability.”