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Inmates grow life skills through gardening

People will give you 1,000 reasons why you should try to eat farm to table goods. Whether it’s the lack of pesticides or the boost shopping local gives to the community, there’s no doubt that farm to table has the ethos of the 21st century to back its ever-growing reputation, and its influence is now moving into a different realm. In prisons across the United States, this means trading in stereotypical prisoner work and the dreaded “loaf” for vegetables grown onsite by the inmates themselves.

“Gardening allows them to practice compassion in an otherwise often harsh environment,” said Hilda Krus, the director of the Rikers Island GreenHouse program in New York City, in a recent interview with PRI.

Programs like Planting Justice, Insight Garden and the Rikers Island Greenhouse are cultivating green thumbs in prisons across the country. Rather than releasing prisoners to the destructive cycle of incarceration, these programs endeavor to teach inmates important lessons through gardening. The process of raising a plant from the ground up is a different form of therapy, but one that has seen amazing results.

According to the Bureau of Justice, two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested within three years of being released from prison, but Planting Justice is undercutting that statistic. The recidivism rate for inmates who complete their program is just 10 percent.

Equipping prisoners with a life skill, like gardening, or, in the case of Corcoran state prison, dairy farming, gives them confidence and a trade to pursue once their terms in prison end.

“I really enjoy what I do,” said inmate Edward Wilson in an interview with NPR. “I take pride in what I do. I’ve never been involved in things like this, but I would like to pursue it back in society. Not just for this job, but it shows you what you’re capable of for any kind of job.”

Not only are the gardening programs a positive, lesson-teaching outreach for inmates, they’re also a cost-effective food source with pros that reach beyond healthier meals. Taxpayers in Oregon were paying close to $100 million annually on inmate healthcare, according to The Oregonian, but when the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) in Salem decided to introduce a gardening promote to inmates, that number began to dwindle.

“It behooves us to try and keep [inmates] as healthy as possible. Not only can we keep our healthcare costs down if we have healthy individuals, but it can also save taxpayer money growing some food ourselves on-site,” said Tonya Gushard, public information officer for OSCI, in an interview with PRI.

So, yes, I think I might agree with the 21st century farm to table eaters. Farm to table foods may help us in more ways than one, and they definitely help prisoners in more ways than one, as well.