“The cool part of farming is you can take someone that has no farming skill sets at all and within three months they can learn all the basic skills to perform their job and perform it well,” Wozniak said.
Thanks to a five-year land deal in 2015 with the city of Detroit, Recovery Park controls 60 acres of a 105-acre footprint on Detroit’s lower eastside that is being used for urban farming, said Wozniak, Recovery Park’s CEO. Meanwhile, the neighborhood that houses Recovery Park is ripe with largely vacant land and potential job candidates. Recovery Park, since its inception in 2012, has reached out to the local community through a series of public meetings to inform them of its plans and to seek their blessing.
“The majority of the people were supportive,” Wozniak said. “They like the idea that something’s coming to the neighborhood. They like the idea that the jobs were coming from the city, that they were food-based, so it’s not just, you know, traditional auto manufacturing-based or something like that. The other thing they like is this zip code (48211) has a high percentage of people coming out of prison, so it’s going to create some economic opportunity for people that are really challenged in the workplace.”
Recovery Park goes to drug treatment facilities in the city and holds jobs fairs with the department of corrections in addition to posting openings on various job websites, Wozniak said. It hires workers in the spring for the ensuing growing season.
The workers start out at $11 per hour, but also receive support services for up to three years. Those services include help with housing, transportation, financial services like opening a bank account and other classes. After 90 days, the employees get 100 percent employee-paid healthcare and their first raise. After a year or so on the job, the workers earn on average $14 per hour, Wozniak said.
Wozniak’s response to people who think the wage is low, is that some of those employees that served time in prison were paid 11 cents per hour by the state to work. “We generally get 80 to 100 applicants for every job we post,” Wozniak said.
Currently its greenhouse employs seven workers during the growing season, he said. The greenhouses are dormant in the winter months – that’s when Recovery Park has to layoff the employees until the next growing season.
Wozniak is pleased with the productivity of the employees Recovery Park has managed to hire. He said they have helped the business live up to its operating mission of being an advocate and supplier of produce in the farm to table movement. “Our goal is to have from harvest to your plate within 48 hours or less – and we have been meeting that,” Wozniak said.
Recovery Park grows tomatoes, greens, edible flowers, beans, peas, carrots, radishes, kale, cucumbers, arugula, squash – in all it has grown about 170 different varieties of product, Wozniak said. But going forward it plans to reduce its produce down to three-different types of lettuce so it can grow to scale.