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5 Organic Gardening Programs Training Inmates to Grow Food

prison gardening program

These 5 inspiring and efficient organic gardening programs are truly cultivating change by providing inmates of this country with hope, skills and the ability to reconnect with nature and the source of life by growing food for themselves and their communities.

1. Insight Garden Program in CA: The Insight Garden Program is an scheme that works with inmates at San Quentin and Solano State Prisons, providing rehabilitation skills to prisoners through organic gardening. The self-selected individuals are provided with classroom lectures alongside hands-on experiences at the jails' 1,200-square foot flower garden, learning about the planning, budgeting, irrigation, soil amendment, garden maintenance, plant identification and propagation techniques involved in organic gardening.

Not only does the program provide these men with skills in ecological literacy, but they also learn qualities of responsibility, discipline and mindfulness through this work with plant, humans and their connected environments. As the founders of the organization believe "because nature cultivates awareness, men learn to respond rather than react — and become productive members of society when they leave prison."

2. Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation in OR: This nonprofit based in Oregon trains volunteers to garden with inmates, educating them on organic gardening practices and how to develop and maintain vegetable gardens within correctional facilities. The organization works with 12 of the 13 Oregon correctional facilities, and has created a program by which participating inmates receive credentials for job searching with an Oregon State University Extension Home Horticultural Certificate. Inmates learn how to manage greenhouses, permaculture practices, composting, soil amendments, seed germination, pest control and related organic gardening techniques. The bounty of the harvest is used in prison kitchens, while the foundation encourages prisons to donate a portion of harvests to local food banks.

3. Riker's Island GreenHouse Program in NY: This prison gardening scheme is run by the Horticultural Society of New York in collaboration with the NYC Department of Correction, and aims to "sustain the vital connection between people and plants." Active since 1996, the GreenHouse Program at Riker's Island, a short-term sentence and waiting station prison for men, women and adolescents, provides education, vocational training and horticultural therapy to facilitate re-entry into society and diminish the chances of re-incarceration. As one of the prisoners himself has exclaimed, 'What I got was this program helps you get back to society. There’s a meaning to this. It’s not like you leave here and go have a meaning. You have something to keep you out of trouble and keep you focused.”

4. Sustainability in Prisons Project in WA: The Sustainability in Prisons Project works with all twelve Washington state prisons, providing education on the sciences, gardening and the natural world. Their SPP trains inmates and correctional staff with schemes that improve prison sustainability and allow participation in the world of science and conservation. Guest instructors visit the various prisons sharing their knowledge on biology, organic gardening, animal species and conservation techniques, while several different projects from restoring bicycles to cultivating organic gardens allows inmates to contribute both inside prison walls and to those one the outside.

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From the Organic Authority Files

4. Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center & Chicago Botanic Garden in IL: Since June 2009, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the VRIC have been working together to provide educational gardening programs for local inmates. Participants learn the skills for creating and maintaining an organic vegetable garden, from sowing seeds, to composting, to tending raised beds and harvesting their bounty. The food grown by the inmates is distributed to the Chicago Botanic Garden's mess hall and food pantries in the city throughout the growing season.

Upon release, former inmates have the opportunity to help with the maintenance of the Garden's other programs, as well as joining the Windy City Harvest Program, a 9 month certification course in sustainable urban horticulture and agriculture, allowing for future job qualifications and experience.

Image: Insight Garden Program

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