Milk Not Jails, a nonprofit that looks to support dairy farms in upstate New York towns that have become heavily reliant on the prison industry, announced a partnership with two Prospect Heights CSAs to provide fresh milk to local residents.
Prospect Heights CSA and Prospect Park CSA are two of of eight community supported agriculture groups to participate in the program in Brooklyn.
(The others are Brooklyn Bridge CSA, Brooklyn Beet CSA, Ditmas Park CSA, Flatbush Farm Share, Greene Harvest CSA (in Fort Greene) and Park Slope CSA.
Helping Milk Not Jails with its mission is Kevin Rutledge, a milk truck delivery driver with intimate knowledge of the pitfalls of New York State's prisons.
"He knows, first-hand, [how] a criminal record makes it hard to get hired," said Milk Not Jails organizer Brenden Beck of Rutledge, who held six different jobs since his 2008 release after being incarcerated for 11 years. "We were just hired to happy a super competent person for the job."
So far, Beck said, the program has been a hit.
"Support has been overwhelming," Beck said. "We had to start turning [CSAs] away because we didn't have the capacity to supply."
Beck said the nonprofit has two immediate goals: first, to end rural upstate New York’s dependency on the prison economy, which he said has prevented improvements to the state’s criminal justice system from being made.
The second goal, Beck said, is to revitalize and invest in New York’s agricultural economy as an alternative to the prison economy. "New York State used to be a predominantly agriculture and manufacturing state," Beck said. "We don't need to rely on prisons for jobs; let's rely on dairy."
So the group partnered with upstate's Ronnybrook and Hawthorne Valley farms to provide milk, yogurt, butter, and cream to city-based buying clubs and 16 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) sites, including Greene Harvest.
By the fall, Beck said, Milk Not Jails plans to develop partnerships with local schools, cafés, and daycare centers, and he's confident that the company and its mission will continue to grow.
"New York State has an option," Beck said. "It can peg its rural economy on an unjust criminal justice system, or on a growing, robust and healthy agriculture system, and we think most people would choose the latter."