From Weed to Food, with “Unsectored” Thinking


UnSectored, a relatively new collective, is building an identity. Founded on the idea that the work of social good requires all sectors, UnSectored is about finding ways that the work of social good can be shared by all community institutions. Like any group trying to imagine a new normal, it’s sometime challenging to understand what “unsectored” work might look like. In my hometown of Philadelphia, I believe that I found an example worth sharing.

An opportunity for unsectored work was discovered during a drug raid:

When Chester police raided a former drugstore in May 2011, what they found gave new meaning to the term high tech.

In the basement was a hydroponic marijuana farm of serious sophistication. Nearly 100 pot plants, from seedlings to lush, 4-foot bushes, flourished in large tubs of water. Faux sunshine from dozens of commercial-grade grow lights powered by industrial generators shone down on a crop worth at least $43,000.

The confiscated equipment typically would have sat in a warehouse until it could be auctioned or destroyed. But Michael Jay, a detective with the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, had a brighter idea.

The bright idea: This equipment could be used to grow healthy food within urban food deserts. For those who haven’t heard the term, a food desert is an area with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet.

One detective knew how this confiscated equipment could be put to better use. The result?

Today, inside a once-forsaken West Philadelphia storefront, the grow lights are giving life to a promising experiment in urban aquatic farming — not only of vegetables and herbs (the legal variety), but also fish.

On the first floor, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and basil sprout from 10-foot lengths of rain gutter and bright orange PVC pipe, also spoils of the Chester raid.

In the cellar, about 80 tilapia navigate the fresh waters of a 4,200-gallon tank made from thick black plastic, oblivious to their pan-fried fate.

The Community Development Corporation that received the donation has a big vision for its use: “[The] goal is to employ 50 workers and harvest 7,000 pounds of produce annually. [They expect] to be welcoming the first customers by early August.”

It seems so simple, yet it’s so rarely done. This is true collaboration between all sectors. The Philadelphia Police Department (government) made a donation of confiscated equipment to a Community Development Corporation (nonprofit). The CDC was able to create an agribusiness that will lead to small business development and job creation (business). Because of Detective Jay’s ingenuity, a typical process was re-framed as an innovative solution.

So simple. This is UnSectored.

So what else do the police departments across the country have hidden away in their warehouses?

Photo credit: quinn.anya

2 thoughts on “From Weed to Food, with “Unsectored” Thinking

  1. Mark, this is such a wonderful post! And as a native Philadelphian, this story brings a smile to my face. Unsectored indeed.

  2. Pingback: 10 Great Social Innovation Reads: July 2012 | Social Velocity

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