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Good With Her Hands: A Jail Farmer Speaks

Posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2008.

Andy and Maggie Hollenhorst

The five W’s of twenty first century farming are on many American’s minds as the popularity of journalist Michael Pollan’s work, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the locavore movement and green markets attest. With this interest have come debates about what we eat and where it comes from, but only recently have we seen portraits of who tills the soil, harvests the crops or sells the bounty. Often those are tethered to foodies’ fetishistic concern for food provenance.

Enter Maggie Hollenhorst. The Milwaukee resident was brought to our Lower Manhattan StoryBooth on the Thursday before Labor Day by her brother, StoryCorps’ own Andy Hollenhorst, to discuss her nascent but already impressive career in agriculture. After recording a shout out to their new nephew, the two traced Maggie’s journey from University of Wisconsin Geography major to jail farmer.

Early in their conversation, Maggie touched on an anxiety of many recent college graduates as they identify and embark on careers.

…since I finished school I felt like I learned how to think but I didn’t learn any real skills, and it was hard to get a job and really more difficult than I expected to find something that I found fulfilling.

But through stints at an educational farm in the northeast and at an apiary in Jamaica, Maggie narrowed her focus on horticultural therapy and prison horticulture and expanded her skill set. Having connected with the Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee soon after they assumed operation of an 150 acre farm across the street from the Milwaukee County House of Correction, Maggie found a position where she could exercise her commitment to engaging non traditional communities, like prisoners, with agriculture and also help to feed the poor and homeless of Milwaukee. The farm once supplied the jail but now feeds Milwaukee’s needy.

Working alongside volunteer non violent inmates nearing release, Maggie had the opportunity to make a number observations about life for the incarcerated and in the booth she relayed her own euphoric workdays as contrasted to those of many of the inmates.

Maggie: It’s really interesting being around people that always want the time to move faster than it is. It’s so strange… I mean, typically people want time to move slower ’cause that means you’re getting older, things are changing.

Andy: You want the endless summer. These guys don’t want the endless summer.

Maggie: I feel like every day I’m at work thinking, “This is such a beautiful day. I hope this summer never ends.” And they are just saying, “November, November, November 15th,” you know. Whatever their day might be, that’s the only day that’s gonna be a good day but despite that I’ve been impressed. They can have pretty high spirits and really have a good time and be social. It’s not like doomsday… They are not in their forever so there is still some hope there which is nice.

As for Maggie’s hopes, she dreams of having her own farm and running her own CSA, so in the future you may have Maggie Hollenhorst to thank for the evening’s spread.

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2 Responses to “Good With Her Hands: A Jail Farmer Speaks”

To preserve the StoryCorps mission and experience for our readers and participants, comments are subject to the StoryCorps Terms of Service. Comments may be held for moderation or removed if deemed offensive or off-topic. Please do not resubmit your comment if you don't see it right away, it will be approved as soon as possible. Thank you.

  • Beautiful story… I bet the Sun magazine would like to publish this story! Maggie, we should do an interview!

    Comment from Gail Grenier Sweet on September 13, 2008 at 11:09 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • Thank-you, Jalylah, for a great story!
    I am Maggie and Andy’s proud and appreciative mom. I wish Maggie’s Grandma Esther and Grandpa George could see her now. Even though she doesn’t remember them, she is carrying on a tradition they lived and loved for all their lives. Maggie grew up in a city 500 miles from her Uncle Jerry’s farm – an uncle and a place she loves. There are so many stories, and Andy loves to hear them all! Thanks, StoryCorps!

    Comment from Arleen on September 12, 2008 at 12:17 pm - Reply to this Comment

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