Fallen Fruit from Rising Women: Empowering Women through Food Justice and Social Entrepreneurship

The Fallen Fruit from Rising Women enterprise will establish a Social Entrepreneurs Academy and co-op for formerly incarcerated women.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

The Fallen Fruit from Rising Women enterprise will establish a Social Entrepreneurs Academy and co-op for formerly incarcerated women.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

East Los Angeles County

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Fallen Fruit from Rising Women is an ongoing collaboration between Crossroads, a transitional home for formerly incarcerated women, and Scripps College, the women’s college of Claremont. Picking local fruit that would otherwise go to waste, Crossroads residents and Claremont Colleges students produce jams and use the profits to fund the larger food justice program. We plan to expand our program by establishing a co-op model. In conjunction with students and professors from the Claremont Colleges, we will develop the Social Entrepreneurs Academy for Crossroads graduates. Our goal is to provide job opportunities for women on parole, build social capital and business literacy skills, and encourage collaboration and community building.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

FFFRW is an established program and has been running successfully since 2010. Currently, Crossroads residents work with Claremont College students enrolled in the Political Economy of Food course at Scripps College to build the FFFRW enterprise. The enterprise funds the women and students who participate in a weekly Meatless Mondays program, in which they prepare and share a home-cooked meal at the Crossroads house. The enterprise has also funded two flourishing vegetable gardens at the Crossroads residences that provide fresh healthy produce and help the women and students learn gardening skills in a supportive therapeutic environment.

In the next year, our project will invest in programming and equipment to build capacity for the social enterprise.

We will begin by establishing a co-op that Crossroads graduates can elect to join. We will expand production to two days per week and pay the graduates an hourly wage in addition to sweat equity. As part of their membership and participation in the co-op, the women will be enrolled in the Social Entrepreneurs Academy with 4 hours of instruction per week. To enable participation in the academy, we will pay the women a stipend for completion of the course.

In addition, we will work with students and faculty at the Claremont Colleges in the fall semester to develop a curriculum for the Social Entrepreneurs Academy. The curriculum will include instruction in accounting, marketing, alternative business models, and other business skills as well as guest lectures and case studies.

Finally, we plan to invest in needed infrastructure to help make our enterprise more efficient. Crossroads women and students learn a lot from their work together in the kitchen, including how to produce and handle food, provide excellent customer service, and support coworkers. By investing in equipment and streamlining our process, we will be able to spend more time teaching the “big picture,” like what it takes to manage a business and what it means to be a social entrepreneur.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

Bell Hooks says: To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.

One third of the California prison population comes from Los Angeles County and about 85% of convictions are for non-violent crimes. These statistics clearly indicate that a significant number of formerly incarcerated persons will be returning to Los Angeles County at some point in time. To overcome the stigma and stereotypes of incarceration, an evening of the playing field is necessary for a person to become a productive member of the community. A better LA means a community building relationships socially, economically, politically, environmentally, and academically. These relationships embrace each person, regardless of his/her background, with the encouragement, support, and opportunity to reach their full potential. Support provides hope for change. Opportunity makes change possible. LA becomes a thriving environment where individuals are empowered and the community becomes more cohesive.

Providing services for formerly incarcerated women for over 40 years has taught Crossroads to see the bigger picture that addresses systemic change and compels us to further action. It has been said that working with one woman affects seven generations. Teaching soft skills like how to keep a job while managing sobriety, family, work and self, empowers women as they move from surviving in their environment to thriving in the community.

Universities have an anchoring power unlike practically any other for-profit or nonprofit institution. By building strong ties between the Claremont Colleges and the surrounding region, we are creating a culture of collaboration that is designed to last well past 2050. The coupling of education and community involvement is what makes our program so special.

In 2050, there will be problems we haven’t anticipated. Our project will equip people from all walks of life to be able to think creatively and adapt to the needs of a changing world.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our project directly benefits three groups: the Crossroads residents and graduates, the Claremont College community, and the larger community of Los Angeles County.

1. Crossroads Residents and Graduates:

Since 1974, Crossroads has been providing services to women in Los Angeles County recently released from prison. Our primary goal is to empower formerly incarcerated women by teaching new skills and helping them achieve economic self-sufficiency. Formerly incarcerated women are a group of homeless women with significant and multi-layered needs. In terms of socioeconomic status, the women who come to Crossroads are generally destitute. In the past five years, almost all of our residents have served a life sentence. The average length of stay for our residents who served a life sentence was 23.4 years and their average age is 52 years. Our six-month Residential Program serves about 34 formerly incarcerated women per year. Our graduates enthusiastically keep in contact with Crossroads, and continue to work and live in Los Angeles County. Many have reunited with family and many now have significant work experience (even those women who served over 20 years in prison.) Graduates reach success in their chosen field of employment. Most graduates have worked multiple years in their jobs and many have been promoted to management positions. One graduate shared that she has worked as office manager in a doctor’s office for three years and completed her bachelor’s degree. With the help from this grant, we will expand our services to include more support for the women who have graduated from the residential program.

2. Claremont College Community:

College students are future change-makers. They will go on to lead non-profit organizations and businesses, advocate for policy and reform, and become engaged members of our community. Some students who have participated in FFFRW have changed their major as a result of their experience with Crossroads. One 2013 graduate remarked that “when we first began, we did not realize that the heart and soul of our internship, and perhaps of all food and social justice issues, was the community that we were able to create.”

3. LA County Community:

The backdrop of everything we do is educating the larger community about the incarcerated. We connect the public to the faces of the criminal justice system and demonstrate that people who have been incarcerated can become productive, engaged members of society.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Established in 2010, FFFRW is an existing collaboration between Crossroads and Scripps College. Crossroads has been collaborating with Scripps College in various capacities for over a decade. The FFFRW collaboration has institutional support from Scripps College, which includes administrative and managerial support from the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Fellow, as well as internship credit granted for the course practicum component of the Political Economy of Food course.

In the past, Crossroads has collaborated with marketing students from the Drucker School of Management. We plan to deepen our collaboration with Drucker through the development of the Social Entrepreneurs Academy; however, a formal collaboration with Drucker has not yet been established. We have also collaborated with faculty from the Claremont Colleges. Dr. Nancy Neiman Auerbach teaches the Political Economy of Food course and serves as the creative director of FFFRW. In addition, Kim Drake, a Scripps English professor, taught writing workshops for the Crossroads residents and compiled their stories into a book published in 2013 titled Stinging for their Suppers. The possibility of connecting with additional resources and accessing expertise from the Claremont College community is significant.

In addition, we have active partnerships with the local Claremont community. Fred and Julianne Baumann generously donate fresh fruit from their 2.5 acre backyard on a weekly basis to create our jams. We have also established relationships with the Prison Library Project, Uncommon Good, and Randy Beckendam, the owner of Amy’s Farm, a social justice oriented farm.

There are several factors critical to the continued success of these collaborations. First, continued support from Scripps College is key. The collaboration with Scripps College has been institutionalized and made a core part of the curriculum and educational mission of the college, receiving significant funding from the office of the President. In addition, we rely on community involvement and fruit donations for our jams. Finally, Crossroads has made FFFRW part of their comprehensive reentry program and the core of their food justice initiative.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CREATE metrics?

Employment in creative industries

Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA

Jobs per capita

Minority- and women-owned firms

Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)

Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)

Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

While our project impacts several of the above metrics, we would like to highlight a few in particular:

1. Unemployment rates for the formerly incarcerated

The primary goal of our enterprise is to provide job training and opportunities for formerly incarcerated women. Our enterprise provides valuable job training, acclimates women to society outside of prison, and fosters entrepreneurial thinking. With the development of a co-op model and formal education in social entrepreneurship, we are paving the way for those who have been incarcerated to find meaningful employment, create their own opportunities, and see themselves as agents of change.

2. Minority and women-owned firms

Crossroads is run by women and for women. In addition, Scripps College is an all women’s college. Empowering women is a core part of our mission. While we focus on women’s issues, we are not exclusive to women and enthusiastically encourage the participation of men. In fact, many of the students in the Political Economy of Food course are men who have gained a great deal from their participation in the program.

Many of the Crossroads residents are minorities. We aim to provide these women with training in entrepreneurial skills that we hope will result in an increase of minority-owned firms in Los Angeles.

3. Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions

The collaboration with Scripps College encourages Crossroads graduates to pursue further education in Los Angeles County. Our graduates have gone on to trade and technical schools, and many have received associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

The Claremont Colleges in general, and Scripps College in particular, attract an array of bright, talented students from all over the world. The majority of students who attend the Claremont Colleges come from outside the state of California; in fact, the Claremont Colleges have the highest percentage of out of state students of all institutions of higher education in LA County. By encouraging students to form relationships with the surrounding community, we are directly contributing to the number of talented students remaining in LA after graduation. One of the ways we are doing this is through the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Fellowship for a recent grad. The fellowship is funded by Scripps College and provides managerial and program support for FFFRW, and promotes sustainability and food justice initiatives at the college and beyond.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

At Crossroads, we look at many variables to measure success. Our main outcome is whether a woman completes the six-month program (and does not return to prison). We also measure success by monitoring specific benchmarks which include: length of time in our program, completion of program, discharge from parole, obtainment of employment, length of time maintaining employment, and lifestyle changes (new friends, interests, sobriety). We pay close attention to other milestones which include a woman re-uniting with her family or continuing her education.

With the establishment of the co-op and Social Entrepreneurs Academy, we will measure success by the number of Crossroads graduates who choose to opt-in to the co-op, job opportunities and ventures for Crossroads gradates, and continued profitability and ability to sustain lucrative employment for co-op members.

Crossroads is committed to monitoring client progress and evaluating program effectiveness. Currently, a formal evaluation is taking place at Crossroads. Professor Stewart Donaldson, a renowned evaluation specialist at Claremont Graduate University, and his graduate students are conducting the evaluation. Through interviews and focus groups of Crossroads residents, alumnae, volunteers, Board of Directors, community members, and community partners, a report will be presented to Crossroads with depth view of the challenges that women and alumnae face when learning to live life after incarceration and living independently in the community. We will use the evaluation for strategic planning and to improve services at Crossroads.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

It is a myth that long-term incarceration means that it will be impossible to find a job. It is far more important that job seekers have relevant work experience. Our program debunks this myth and enables women to gain valuable work experience that will help them secure employment. Garden programs in prison have been shown to be effective, but the women need to feel a sense of ownership and see the fruits of their labor. In prison, women couldn’t eat the vegetables they grew. Our program motivates the women to invest time in job training by creating a sense of ownership in their work.

In addition, we have found that community members are eager to participate in something meaningful. Providing the community with the opportunity to contribute, through the purchase of our products, the donation of fruit, or by volunteering has resulted in an outpouring of support for our program.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Much of the groundwork for our project is already in place. We have an established relationship at Scripps College and a history of successful collaborations with the Claremont College community. We already have student interns signed up for next semester (beginning at the end of August). We also have the support of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Fellow at Scripps College whose position is designed to help administer and manage the program.

In the next 12 months, we will build productive capacity as we grow the enterprise. The demand for our products is beginning to outpace production as we expand into new venues such as Goods Eggs, an online farmers market in LA. Expanding production to a second day a week is easily doable with the help from this grant. We will involve both the Crossroads women and students in developing a sustainable and unique business plan that supports our goals of providing employment to formerly incarcerated women. We are in discussions with partners to develop the Social Entrepreneurs Academy and teach classes and we have already negotiated for educational computer lab space.

Since our proposed project is focused on Crossroads graduates, we will not be constrained by the demanding schedule of Crossroads residents. Residents are busy attending workshops, counseling, and AA meetings, and their ability to participate in the enterprise is limited by other necessary obligations. Graduates, on the other hand, have adjusted to life outside of prison and have greater time and mental energy to participate in the enterprise.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One challenge will be clearly defining a sustainable and just co-op model. Since we will be changing our business model, we will need to iron out the details of taking on employees and developing a payment structure. We will tackle this challenge by utilizing the resources of the Claremont Colleges. Microfinance and entrepreneurship clubs have already expressed interest in working together to develop the enterprise structure.

Another challenge will be to ensure that we can sustain the program once the funding is spent in September 2015. Catapulting our production and sales through this funding will help us build capacity and enable us to continue to support the program with our profits alone.