From gang life to green shoots in Chicago
Darius Jones, 21, with easter egg radishes. Raised in gritty West Garfield Park, Jones struggled to turn his life around, but recently launched his own urban agriculture business. Photo Chicago Botanic Garden.
USDA, Chicago Botanic Garden partner to promote urban agriculture in food deserts
By Chris Bentley
May 28, 2013
Darius Jones grew up slinging drugs in West Garfield Park, a few blocks and seemingly a lifetime away from the garden beds he now tends with the support of the United States Department of Agriculture.
On May 1, the 21-year-old launched Urban Aggies, an incubator for urban agriculture enterprises that he hopes to parlay into a network of farms and small businesses. He is also part of a project administered by the Chicago Botanic Garden, and funded through a three-year USDA effort to rejuvenate food deserts on the city’s West and South Sides.
But trading gang life for garden spades was no simple switch.
Jones first worked the soil behind bars at the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center, or “Boot Camp” as it’s known. He was arrested for aggravated carjacking at 17, when he was a junior at Crane High School. He waited 15 months in Cook County prison before pleading guilty to a lesser offense, which earned him four months in Boot Camp. In the compound’s one-acre garden, he transplanted head lettuce, built raised beds and learned the basics of horticulture, landscaping and gardening.
After more than a year in a maximum security facility, Jones said he was just happy to be outside. He served his time and took a job at a compost operation right next door to Boot Camp.