Tag Archives: gardening

Are you right for the garden & is the garden right for you?

By Carly Rose, Curriculum Development Coordinator at SPP-Evergreen

Gardeners work together at WCCW. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

What makes a garden in prison worth tending, and how does an incarcerated person know that gardening is a good fit for them? The history of agriculture in the U.S. has encompassed both incredible advances in supporting human health while also contributing to historical oppression. Especially given that history, whether or not to garden should be the decision of the gardener. Especially in prison, how does an incarcerated person know that gardening is a worthy part of their journey?

Horticulture students at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) harvest potatoes. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

I have created a list of conditions that I believe signify that the person is right for the garden and the garden is right for them. These principles may be considered by any gardener, whether inside or outside of prison.

1. You want to grow plants.

Two gardeners wash and bag bok choi harvested at WCC. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

2. You find joy in growing plants. Gardening is an act of dedication, patience, and surrender, and not everyone finds joy in such a commitment. When you are in the garden, if you lose track of time, if you find yourself reveling in the small details of the garden,  if you find yourself a student of the garden, then the garden is for you.

3. The act of gardening reflects your inner self. You can see yourself in the cycles of the garden.

4. Your body, mind, heart, and spirit want you to tend the garden.

Ben Aseali poses in his garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

5. Gardening connects you to your community. Whether you produce beautiful flowers and food for people, animals, or insects, aquatic plants to oxygenate bodies of water, shrubs, and trees to oxygenate the air, you will be able to sense the ways that gardening connects you to your world.

6. Gardening connects you to your culture. In almost every culture of the world, people cultivate plants to feed their community. If gardening connects you to your culture, it is a gift to you and your loved ones.

A gardener steps on her shovel at WCCW. Photo by Benj Drummond & Sara Joy Steele.

Gardening is not everyone’s cup of chamomile tea – and it shouldn’t be. As a collective, we are made stronger through a diversity of interests and talents, and gardening is only one. For those of you who are willing, joyful, and overwhelmed with the beauty (ok…and work) at harvest time, I hope the seasons are kind to you this year.

The garden crew shows off a prize cauliflower at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Don Carlstad.

Peer education created by and for incarcerated gardeners

By Carly Rose, SPP Curriculum Development Coordinator and Emerico, Gardening Curriculum Author

Gardeners tend to the soil in the gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit. Incarcerated authors at MCC-WSRU are working with SPP to author chapters on Vermicomposting, Bokashi Composting, and Soil Science. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For the past six months, gardeners at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit have been helping to build the new Gardening Curriculum. To develop course chapters, authors are combining expertise gained through personal experience with knowledge from scholarly research. Authors are working on a voluntary basis: they elect to share based on their desire to explore and describe a particular topic; some of the chapters currently in development include Vermicomposting & Bokashi Composting, Soil Science, the Soil Food Web, Planting and Harvesting Vegetables in Prison, Seed Saving, and Aquaponics.

Developing part of a curriculum while incarcerated requires some creativity. In order to submit materials, authors have provided handwritten work that is then typed and formatted by myself. One author types his work into JPay (social email) and mails it to a family member who mails it back, which gives him a pre-typed manuscript to submit. Most authors also provide their own illustrations and diagrams to be included in the chapter. Authors use a mixture of narrative from personal experience, tips on gardening that are specific to a prison environment, and college-level scholarly research to produce their work. They provide instruction that is created by and intended for incarcerated gardeners across the country. Authors and I send materials back and forth so they may provide feedback and edits on separate drafts of their work. One of the authors, Emerico, offered a personal narrative on his motivation to learn and write about his topic, Aquaponics. 

Introduction to Aquaponics by Emerico

I first became interested in aquaponics after reading a few articles and watching some educational television programs. I was working on the gardening crew at Stafford Creek and when the gardening classes started, I was thrilled to be included. Over time, I have learned every person—incarcerated or not—has a purpose in life. My purpose was building an aquaponics system with no budget. I had to lose my freedoms before I could find my purpose in life. This is where aquaponics all began for me. I had an idea, so I put it to paper and talked to the garden supervisor about the idea.

One of my first jobs on the garden crew was working with the hydroponics system. I found out that this type of system, which requires chemicals to grow plants and vegetables, is expensive and I believe far less healthy. My goal was to get away from using chemicals and go to more of a natural resource system. I thought about a way to build a small-scale aquaponics system that uses fish to feed the vegetables. After many attempts to get it approved, and with the help of the garden crew, we built a recycled materials aquaponics system. The first part of the vision of my idea came to life.

This is part of the aquaponics system built by Emerico, who is authoring a chapter on Aquaponics. He explained that he wants the chapter to be accessible to both incarcerated gardeners and low-income families outside of prison. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

There is a sense of satisfaction when growing your own vegetables whether for self/family or others. I believe also that gardening can relieve stress. This country is blessed; there should not be anyone going hungry. We see too much senseless hunger in our country and throughout the world. There must be a solution to this problem. How can we do this? By making people aware and teaching them that aquaponics is not only a healthier way to grow produce, but is also cheaper. Aquaponics saves money in the long run for people and their families, and is a fun way to bring families together in the garden.

As for me, it is all about giving back and helping those in the community and throughout society that are less fortunate. The purpose is to get a finer perception of aquaponics through research. Anyone can pretty much build a small-scale aquaponics system with a limited budget and few resources. I hope this brief overview has helped you. Above all else, have fun.

From his lab notebook, Emerico shows a diagram of the aquaponics system. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next Steps

The course is projected to pilot in winter of this year. The two teams of authors plan to be part of that process as well; they will be among the first to try out the new program. Their feedback during and after the trial run will help us further refine the course, and then be ready to share it statewide and beyond.

All of the authors have personal experience gardening in prison, working on projects such as this garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. This garden is tended by individuals serving a life sentence, and is known as the “lifer’s garden.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Seed to Supper: a bittersweet goodbye

By Jacob Meyers, Conservation Nursery Coordinator


For the past year and a half, I’ve had a truly unique and remarkable opportunity. Once per month, I made the hour long trek out to Washington’s coast, not to surf or go clamming, but to teach a garden class to over 50 incarcerated individuals. The garden class began as a way for Ed Baldwin, the Ground/Nursery Specialist at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), to support and encourage the gardens at the facility. Former SPP Coordinator, Joey Burgess, joined the effort by offering a superb (and free) introductory gardening curriculum called Seed to Supper. Oregon Food Bank and Oregon State University Extension Service teamed up to create the course which aims to educate and inspire adults to grow a portion of their own food and build more food secure communities. Topics covered range from building and planning to maintaining and harvesting a garden.

A PowerPoint slide from one of the very first lessons of the Seed to Supper curriculum.

During one of my first trips to prison, I got to watch Joey teach one of these classes. Joey made teaching look effortless with a laid back, but confident persona. But the following month, it was me up in front of 50 inmates and not Joey. I’m not a shy person by any means (I acted on stage in college and high school in front of well more than 50 people) but this was a bit different. For one, when I started I was by no means ‘an expert’ on gardening. And two, I wasn’t sure how well my teaching style would be received.

SPP Nursery Coordinator, Joey Burgess, presenting the Seed to Supper curriculum to gardeners at Stafford Creek Correctional Center. Photo Credit: Ricky Osborne

I remember staying up late the night before my first class scouring the material over and over to make sure I could answer any and every question thrown my way. Of course, I had no such luck. But at the same time I find it kind of funny that I was so worried. I should have guessed that the class would be full of smart, thoughtful, knowledgeable and kind individuals, and it was. They asked me tough questions and challenged me. They took what I offered them, and—with their ideas and questions—made it better. I had been too focused not being a gardening expert or  that I am not a perfect teacher. It was helpful to remember that the students weren’t expecting me to be just as I wasn’t expecting them to be perfect students, or any of us to be perfect people. Sure, these men (and women) have made mistakes, but they are people. Many of whom are eager and thirsty for knowledge.

One of the unit gardeners at SCCC raises his hand to ask a question.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

So for the past year and a half I’ve made the same trek every month not just to teach a group of men about gardening and growing vegetables, but also to learn from them.

However, in 2019 the gardening education program is transitioning and so is my role in it. I won’t be leading the class at SCCC anymore, but there are exciting developments underway. SPP has signed an agreement with Oregon Food Bank to propose changes to the Seeds to Supper curriculum. SPP staff along with incarcerated students and educators at Monroe Correctional Complex and Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Department of Corrections staff, Institute for Applied Ecology, University Beyond Bars, and Tilth Alliance, will be suggesting revisions to the existing Seed to Supper curriculum, enhancing the course with additional modules on select topics, and transitioning the resources to support a peer-led model. Developing this peer-led format builds on a growing number of efforts to empower incarcerated people with resources and support to increase educational opportunities in prisons across the state. So while it means my time delivering the program has ended, the possibility for reaching more incarcerated men and women and sharing the joys and wonders of gardening has never been higher.

And so to the unit gardeners I had the privilege to teach and learn with and to the staff at Stafford Creek I got to work with, I say goodbye for now. Hopefully someday, I will see you in the garden.

Flowers in full bloom at one of the gardens at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.
Photo credit: Ricky Osborne

Out on the Farm

Text by former Cedar Creek Turtle Technician William “Bill” Anglemyer.
Forward by former SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Jessica Brown.
Photos by SPP Conservation Coordinator, Marisa Pushee (unless otherwise noted).

I met Bill during my first visit to Cedar Creek over a year ago when I started as SPP’s Turtle Program Coordinator.  Although Bill is quite humble in sharing his experience as a technician, he played a huge role in the success of the western pond turtle program: his organization, attention to detail, and dedication to the turtles’ health and welfare were instrumental to building the program. It was fun to witness his passion for reading and writing about environmental issues leading him to the Organic Farming Program at Evergreen. Recently, Marisa Pushee and I had the chance to visit Bill on the organic farm and get a tour of all the gardens and operations, including Bill’s carrots! Below are Bill’s own words about his time with SPP, and what he’s been up to since his time as a Turtle Technician.

Bill shows a harvest of his prized carrots at Evergeen’s Organic Farm. Photo by Tierra Petersen.

My name is William “Bill” Anglemyer. I spent over 3 years working as a Turtle Technician at Cedar Creek Correctional Center through SPP, in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. In those 3+ years, I did much more than care for turtles. I also raised Oregon spotted frogs for the summer of the first year and maintained cricket and mealworm breeding operations. Additionally, I was involved in the video monitoring of four different species of woodpeckers for a research program conducted by the US Forest Service.

In the western pond turtle program, I learned about the importance of biodiversity and the role of different species within our world. At first, most of this learning was done to counter arguments by staff and other inmates who failed to see the value in preserving endangered species. I spent my time studying textbooks on conservation biology and animal behavior (ethology). After a few years studying those subjects and countering arguments from different people, I began to really understand the importance and the dangers that go along with the current climate situation.

Along with my passion for environmentalism, I have always been interested in journalism. This is because I believe journalism is the only field in which a person’s job is to learn all they can about everything in the world.

Beautiful flowers growing at the Organic Farm on Evergreen’s campus.

I am currently enrolled in The Evergreen State College where I’m studying organic farming and the local food movement. My plan is to be a voice for small farmers in future journalistic pursuits. In one year I will complete my bachelor’s degree. My plan is to produce pieces on environmental, socio-economic, and social justice issues without the sensationalization that is part and parcel of many mainstream media productions. As to current projects, a classmate and I are working on a coffee table book of photography with pictures of recreational vehicles which feature a comical prefix added to their names.

After I complete my degree at Evergreen, I hope to attend the environmental journalism school at CU Boulder — more schooling never hurts when it comes to learning skills and making contacts.

Bill hard at work on the Organic Farm at Evergreen.

Beans to Bluebonnets

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator
All photos by SPP-Evergreen staff

This May I visited Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC). It was about a year after the town discovered their drinking water was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.

The town of Airway Heights was greatly impacted by the contamination, and the local prison was no exception. AHCC has a large agriculture and gardening program that was forced to throw out about 100,000 pounds of fresh vegetables grown on site because of contamination concerns.

A view of a field inside at AHCC where inmates grow produce. This picture was taken in early spring of 2016.

This is the same AHCC field when I visited in late May. No produce was growing, and none would be for the remainder of 2018.

A year later, things have mostly righted themselves in Airway Heights. Prison administrators told me that soil tests have shown their soil has low amounts of contaminants in it, if any. Even so, they wanted to be sure the soil was completely clear before planting produce again. For 2018, many of the vegetable gardens were growing flowers only. Flowers can “clean” the soil by pulling the contaminants out of it.

The courtyard at AHCC full of produce in Spring of 2016.

This Spring, showy flowers are found throughout the courtyard and gardens, in most places where you could find vegetables in recent years.

The inmates and staff are confident they will be growing produce again next year. Until then the flowers look beautiful, and the pollinators love them!

A honeybee collects pollen from bluebonnets growing in the prison courtyard.

A Beautiful Spring and Explosive Summer at WCCW

Photos and text by Jacob Meyers, Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Pop. Pop. Pop. Scream. Laughter. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Crew members (left to right) Tammera Thurlby, Danielle Castillo, and Angela Jantzi harvesting Viola adunca on a hot summer day.

That may sound like a group of teenagers watching a horror movie while waiting for the popcorn to finish in the microwave. In reality, it was a scene that played out a couple weeks ago, as I and several nursery technicians spent the afternoon harvesting Viola (violet) seeds. The scream was mine: a seed pod caught me off guard when it unexpectedly exploded in my cup. The crew (rightfully so) hasn’t let me forget that a Viola seed pod scared me half to death. (In my defense, a spider had just crawled across my leg and I was a little bit on edge.)

It’s rarely a dull moment at WCCW these days. While most of the flowers finished blooming in early May, June and July have been full of exploding violet pods and which means there is a lot of work to be done! As my co-worker wrote a few weeks back, the early-blue violet (Viola adunca) is an extremely important prairie plant in the recovery of prairie landscapes, and to the Fritillary butterflies (Zerene FritillarySpeyeria zerene bremnerii – and the Great Spangled FritillarySpeyeria cybele pugetensis) in particular. At WCCW, we have two species of viola currently – the aforementioned early blue violet and the yellow violet (Viola praemorsa). The Viola adunca cultivated at WCCW is collected for seed to aid in the recovery of the Zerene fritillary (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) on the Oregon Coast.

Violets are commonly known to even the most inexperienced gardener. Heck, even people who don’t garden are familiar with the small, heart-shaped flowers that are typical of the genera. But what you may not know is that the Viola genus contains more than 500 species! The ones we grow at SPP are a bit hardier than your typical Viola. The species we cultivate are found in places where water is hard to come by—prairies, savannahs, sand dunes and on the edges of woodlands. Regardless of where they are found, Viola species serve as an important nectar source for pollinators.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful blooms we had at WCCW this year:

 

The early-blue violet (Viola adunca) is found across the cooler states and provinces of North America in coastal sand bluffs, prairies, and woods. Another of its common names is the sand violet.

 

There are 8 beds of Viola adunca at WCCW. The plants are six inches apart, which is a bit tighter than is typical for a seed farm or nursery, but allows us to cram in approximately 400 Violas in each bed!!

 

Viola praemorsa, or the canary violet, is far less common than its bluish-purple cousin. This violet is only found in western North American oak savannahs and oak woodlands.

 

This is a wide view of all the raised beds at WCCW. Viola praemorsa in the foreground, Viola adunca (purple flowers) beyond, and two beds of wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) all the way in the back. Strawberries are also an important pollinator plant in prairie habitat.

 

 

Scott Skaggs is the Grounds & Facilities Supervisor at WCCW and helps manage the Nursery Crew. In the photo above Scott is doing a little bit of spot weeding.

While very pretty, the beautiful flowers have a forthcoming message – it’s reproduction time! And after those beautiful signals go off and a little bit of magic (sexual reproduction via pollination), little baby plants (aka seeds) begin to emerge!! After baking in the sun for a number of days or weeks, Viola species all form capsules or “pods” that split open and disperse. Or as is the case in the species we grow at SPP – the pods explode like the one in my cup. The photos below show seed pods developing, and their processing after we harvest them.

 

In the above photo, a Viola adunca plant is starting the reproduction process. The seed pods are typically green colored and curled up like an umbrella when they first emerge. As the pods mature, their color whitens and the stems stands up straight in preparation for pod explosion.

 

A mature Viola adunca seed pod: notice the whiter coloring and erect stem; this is the perfect time to harvest the pods.

 

This photo shows what happens when Viola pods go unharvested. Most of the pods’ seed disperses about 5 feet in every direction during the explosion – some have been found up to 10 feet from their parent plants!!

 

Sometimes, however, the seed stays put. This isn’t great for the plant’s reproductive success rate; for people collecting seed, it’s a welcome sight!

 

Harvesting all of the seed pods ready at one time can take the entire WCCW crew anywhere from 3 to 5 or 6 hours. Depending on when during the collection season we’re harvesting, there can be a lot of pods to pick!

 

After harvesting, all of the pods go into bins where they can continue to dry out and “pop” for easy collection. Here is a bin of Viola praemorsa sitting on a window ledge to get a little extra sunlight.

 

A tule cloth on top keeps all the seeds from flying all over the office!

 

In this photo most of the pods have already exploded and left behind their seed on the bin floor. These are Viola praemorsa seed which is quite a bit larger (at least 2-3x larger) than Viola adunca seed.

 

After going through several rounds of sifting with professional grade sieves all that remains is A LOT of Viola adunca seed. It has been a tremendously successful season at WCCW. We anticipate easily surpassing our goal of 2-3 pounds!

 

This picture illustrates just how small Viola adunca seed actually is! The small size is another reason why harvesting seed mechanically or after the pods explode is nearly impossible!!

Looking through these pictures one might be able to deduce that the task of harvesting viola seed can be monotonous, and quite time consuming. As technician Tammera Thurlby told me, “I harvested so many viola seeds/pods that when I close my eyes it’s all I can see.” But beyond helping the Fritillary butterflies prairie habitat here in the Pacific Northwest, the caring for and cultivation of violas at WCCW also produces something that might be harder to see – an opportunity for the technicians to grow and heal themselves. “My life has been a lot of taking, so it’s nice to be able to give back,” said Ms. Thurlby.

“Give back to what?” I asked.

“To everything. Helping save an endangered species, doing something positive and constructive with my life rather than destructive,” she replied.

Her words reminded me of what I heard from a technician at Stafford Creek, Michael Gorski; he said to a group of partners, “A lot of what they’re [SPP] growing is people. They’re saving lives – opening the master key for life.”

Little Viola seeds turn into plants with beautiful flowers, which in turn may feed an endangered butterfly; but you never know what kind of seed you are planting in any given moment or interaction when working with people.

Technician Tammera Thurlby holds up a tiny Viola adunca seed pod during a day of harvesting this past summer.

Caring for the Community with Coastal Harvest

Text and photos by Amanda Mintz unless otherwise noted.

If you have never seen Stafford Creek Corrections Center, you might be surprised; among the fences and gray buildings are one and a half acres of flower and vegetable gardens. This includes several very large plots, many ornamental plantings, and a plot for every living unit. Inmates tend the gardens daily among the bees and butterflies; they experiment with novel gardening techniques, and carefully hand-water the plants.

A unit garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photograph by Kelly Peterson.

The incarcerated gardeners take a monthly class called Seed to Supper, co-lead by SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator Jacob Meyers and SCCC’s Grounds and Nursery Supervisor Ed Baldwin (Ed is also the Prairie Conservation Nursery Liaison). Seed to Supper lasts nine sessions, during which participants learn how to grow and harvest produce in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Baldwin decides what to grow, sometimes choosing unusual vegetables new to the gardeners. In class, the gardeners are encouraged to share their strategies and successes with one another to improve their skills collectively. Each class concludes with Mr. Baldwin announcing the weekly haul for each living unit—usually several hundred pounds per garden. Last year, SCCC produced 11,000 pounds of food. This year they have already broken that record, and will harvest over 19,000 pounds of produce by the end of this month!

This hoop house was donated by SPP’s conservation nursery for growing food, and according to Ed Baldwin, it has increased production of heat and sun loving vegetables that are difficult to grow in the cooler coastal climate of SCCC.

 

Conservation Nursery Technicians Shabazz Malekk and Aaron Bander strike a pose in the hoop house.

 

SPP’s Conservation Nursery Technicians maintain the HUB gardens, where they use experimental techniques for natural pest suppression and increasing plant growth.

Most garden seed comes from Harvest Now, an organization that works with correctional facilities nationwide to grow-to-donate and provide fresh food for their own cafeterias. At SCCC, most of the produce is donated to Coastal Harvest, a non-profit organization serving food banks and pantries in a seven-county area of Southwestern Washington. Ed Baldwin was responsible for initiating the partnership; he visited Coastal Harvest and invited them to come tour the gardens at SCCC. According to Coastal Harvest staff, the response to the partnership from the community is very positive; SCCC is their only regular weekly contributor of fresh produce, and they are grateful for it.

I asked some of SPP’s Conservation Nursery Technicians, who also tend the HUB gardens and greenhouse, and Mr. Baldwin how they feel about donating most of the food they grow.

Technician Dale King said that, before he came to Stafford Creek, his life was all about himself; he never did anything for anyone else.  Now he feels good about the opportunity to do something for others in need.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Dale King and Daniel Travatte are proud to provide food for Coastal Harvest.

 

In addition to experimenting with growing techniques, the garden crew re-purposes as many items as possible, such as using plastic bags and buckets to grow tomatoes and eggplants.

The other technicians agreed; because they have their basic needs addressed, their work has become a labor of love; the gratitude from the community is more important to them than eating the food themselves. The community served by Coastal Harvest is their community too, and it cultivates a sense of pride to be able to give back. They brought up the idea that it takes one to one-and-a-half acres to feed one person for a year. There are almost 2000 people at SCCC, and not even two acres of gardens; Ed Baldwin and the technicians agreed that what they grow would be only a drop in the bucket at the prison.

Starting in July, they figured out how to send some produce to the inmate kitchen; kitchen staff come out every Monday to look through the harvest and take what they can use to supplement inmate meals for the week, usually salad greens and herbs. Many of the prison-grown pumpkins will be contributed to SCCC’s monthly Family Fun Night in October, where inmates and their families will paint them for Halloween.

More than anything else, the Conservation Nursery Technicians at SCCC expressed that they appreciate the learning experience created by the partnership with Coastal Harvest. They have experimented with unusual fruit and vegetable varieties and adjusted their production based on feedback about the most popular items at the food banks and pantries. Mr. Baldwin thinks that at this point, each participating gardener could easily start his own business. Technician Daniel Travatte even went as far as saying he would pay to do this work!

 

Conservation Nursery Technicians Kelly Lund and Stanley Feliciano cool off inside the squash trellis.

 

Many plants begin their lives in the greenhouse and move into the gardens as they mature.

 

Although less popular at the food banks, Coastal Harvest uses unusual or unknown vegetable varieties at their pantries, where they prepare and give away meals.

 

This gorgeous garlic is nearly ready for harvest.

Farm to Table Celebration at WCC

Text and photos by SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator Alexandra James

Harvest Pizzas line up.

The Farm-to-Table concept is making headway in Washington state prisons. In general, the concept promotes the use of local food in restaurants, schools, and community centers adjacent to regional farms. This growing season at Washington Corrections Center, SPP’s Conservation Nursery crew tended the vegetable plots adjacent to their violet beds; the crew sowed, grew, and harvested hundreds of pounds of food to support the local food banks, making farm-to-table possible for people with the greatest need.

SPP hosted a pizza party for the crew in celebration of their efforts. Pizza toppings and salad fixings were harvested from vegetables growing in the horticulture garden. The crew worked together to create colorful pizzas to share amongst the SPP nursery crew and DOC staff.

Colorful Pizza topped with edible flowers.

The vegetable garden served as an educational forum, where crew members learned about organic agriculture and the implications of food systems in the United States. Hard work and long hours were a common attribute needed to sustain the gardens. Along with the produce from the horticulture program, WCC produced over 24,414 lbs. under the leadership of Benri Deanon, Grounds Supervisor. The WCC staff and crew members did an incredible job working together to support their local community outside of the prison walls.

The celebration not only marked an important milestone for the gardening season; it was also a joyful transition for SPP staff in the Conservation Nursery. Joey Burgess, SPP coordinator for two years, is moving on to be a horticulture and literacy instructor at WCC. He will be working for Centralia College and will bring his dedication and expertise full time to incarcerated students.

Alexandra James will step in as the new SPP coordinator at WCC. Alex joins the SPP team with experience in environmental education and is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and passion for nature with the WCC crew. She hopes to enhance her understanding of environmental education by engaging, empowering, and learning from our incarceration community.

Salad with kale, collard greens, lettuce, edible flowers, chives, and tomatoes.

Washington Corrections Center for Women Celebrates its SPP programs

by Bri Morningred, SPP Graduate Research Assistant and SPP Coordinator for Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) conservation nursery
photos by Shauna Bittle

Heading out for a tour of SPP programs, passing the gorgeous gardens at WCCW

Heading out for a tour of SPP programs, passing the gorgeous gardens at WCCW

It was a beautiful day in Gig Harbor, WA, perfect for the celebration of the amazing sustainability programs at Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW). We had prepared for the celebration for months, and it was gratifying to share with partners and the public the many contributions offenders have made to a sustainable prison community.

Restoration and Conservation Coordinator Carl Elliott describes the SPP conservation nursery program at WCCW

Restoration and Conservation Coordinator Carl Elliott describes the SPP conservation nursery program at WCCW

The tour began with introductions from the superintendent of WCCW, Jane Parnell, and from Carri LeRoy and Carl Elliott of SPP. The tour’s first stop was the Conservation Nursery hoop houses at the minimum security campus. Attendees had a chance to watch the conservation nursery crew at work, walk through the carpet of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) that was beautifully in bloom, and speak with the SPP staff and offender technicians about the conservation nursery program.

Outside and inside of one of the hoop houses in the conservation nursery

Outside and inside of one of the hoop houses in the conservation nursery

Scott Skaggs, Construction and Maintenance Project Supervisor and WCCW manager of the conservation nursery crew, examines a plant showing signs of insect damage

Scott Skaggs, Construction and Maintenance Project Supervisor and WCCW manager of the conservation nursery crew, demonstrates monitoring for insect damage on Indian paintbrush

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Bri Morningred enjoys a moment of success with an inmate technician in the conservation nursery

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Bri Morningred enjoys a high five with an offender technician in the conservation nursery

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja species) thriving in the conservation nursery

Indian paintbrush thriving in the conservation nursery

Next up was the community gardens on the way to medium security campus. This leg of the tour was led by Ed Tharp, who runs the Horticulture Program at WCCW. These gardens are in the courtyard area of the minimum security campus and grow a variety of foods that are harvested for the prison’s kitchen.

Ed Tharp, x Community College, runs the horticultural program at WCCW

Ed Tharp, Tacoma Community College, runs the horticultural program at WCCW

The final tour stop was in the concrete courtyard of the medium security campus. Located next to the education building—which houses the horticulture classroom, the floral program, and many other wonderful educational programs—there are various garden beds  growing onions, garlic, and strawberries.

Enjoying the strawberry beds at WCCW

Enjoying the strawberry beds at WCCW

Assistant Superintendent for WCCW David Flynn, the champion of many SPP programs for the facility, talks to the group about recent activities

Assistant Superintendent for WCCW David Flynn, the champion of many SPP programs for the facility, talks to the group about recent activities

Audrey Lamb, Conservation Assistant at the Center for Natural Lands Management, regards gardens in the close custody area of WCCW

The tour visits gardens in the close custody area of WCCW; Audrey Lamb, Conservation Assistant at the Center for Natural Lands Management, in the foreground

We ended with a poster session and awards ceremony in the gymnasium.  We ate prison-grown salad and strawberries and cupcakes decorated with prairie flowers. Attendees toured  informational tables for many of the sustainable programs at WCCW, including the Prison Pet Partnership Program, Mother Earth Farms, the Horticulture Program, Food Services, the Recycling Program, Sustainability in Prisons Project, and Center for Natural Lands Management.

SPP's Carl Elliott receives prison-grown salad at the poster session

SPP’s Carl Elliott receives fresh garden salad at the poster session

Melissa Johnson (?), publicity and outreach for WCCW, admires the horticultural program display at the poster session

Melissa Johnson, publicity and outreach for WCCW, admires the horticultural program display at the poster session

Best cupcakes ever! Bri Morningred and x bakery collaborated to produce native plant-decorated cupcakes for the celebration. They also tasted great!

Best cupcakes ever! SPP’s Bri Morningred collaborated with a local bakery to produce native plant-decorated cupcakes for the celebration. They also tasted great!

Jane Parnell, Superintendent of WCCW, presents an inmate technician with a certificate of appreciation at an awards ceremony

Jane Parnell, Superintendent of WCCW, presents an offender technician with a certificate of appreciation at an awards ceremony

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An offender technician on the conservation nursery crew shows a certificate of appreciation recognizing her dedication to the program

It was wonderful to get to recognize the amazing things happening at WCCW. The prisons community is  taking great strides toward sustainable living and it is inspiring to work with them towards that goal.

Bountiful gardens at Washington Corrections Center for Women

By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

Program director Ed Tharp in the garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women.Gig Harbor, Wash.—Emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the horticulture program at Washington Corrections Center for Women provides an opportunity for offenders to enroll as Tacoma Community College students in order to learn job skills and gain important experience in nursery operations and floral design. So far this year, the gardens have produced 9,365 pounds of vegetables that were harvested and then prepared and served in the offender kitchen—and it’s still growing.

“This is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had,” said program director Ed Tharp. “One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing the ladies succeed when they get out.”

The facility’s horticulture department employs 10 students as teacher assistants who are responsible for the planting and harvesting of the gardens. Currently 51 students are enrolled in horticulture and 14 are enrolled in organic farming. Horticulture students learn about sustainable gardening, vegetable gardening, plant propagation, commercial greenhouses, floral design, floral shop operation and integrated pest management, just to name a few.  Organic farming students have the opportunity to work on an outside crew at Mother Earth Farm, an organic farm in Puyallup.

Canyon Little, Mother Earth Farm manager, said her farm has been able to produce about 148,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables on nearly eight acres of land in the Puyallup Valley. She told Tharp she was “impressed with how hard each of the offenders worked on every visit, and how they were eager to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired through their education.”

The garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women“Because each offender demonstrated a high capacity of responsibility for day-to-day farm activities, I decided to assign special projects for each lady,” Little said. “The project idea was a way for the offenders to take ownership of the farm, learn something new and educate each other on their respective projects. Being a part of the learning process was an enriching experience as a manager, and I look forward to working with Washington Corrections Center for Women to explore new boundaries, build knowledge and experiences and work together to fight hunger.”

Mother Earth Farm works with the Emergency Food Network by supplying fresh produce to 74 local food banks, hot-meal sites and shelters in Pierce County. Other produce was sent to the Cannery Project in Kent, which converted the donations into more than 1000,000 cans of fruits and vegetables.

Washington Corrections Center for Women is excited to see what next year will hold. Next year’s garden is already planned and the seeds are ordered.