U.S.: horticulture program trains inmates for green industry

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U.S.: horticulture program trains inmates for green industry

At Salt Lake County Jail in Utah, a select group of inmates will begin a crash course next week on basic horticulture, covering topics from soil science to weed control.jail7

With the support of Utah State University Cooperative Extension, the Excellence in Gardening program allows inmates to work first hand growing around 80 fruit and vegetable varieties destined for the downtown farmers market.

The week-long program and certification places a special focus on work potential for a population that may otherwise struggle to find employment opportunities, explained USU assistant professor Katie Wagner.

"The key component to the curriculum is we try to relate what they’re doing gardening-wise back to the green industry and potentially available jobs for them. There are a lot of different types of employment where these guys could make a career for themselves," the course instructor told www.freshfruitportal.com.

"Certain fields of the green industry are a good option for some of these guys. We can’t forget that a lot of these guys have a felony charge and that does make finding a job harder. There are a lot of fields where that kind of mark on the record is an immediate out."

The curriculum - written by Wagner in 2011 - builds on a pre-existing jail gardening program through a condensed educational component fit for the rapidly changing, fluid inmate population.

"They spend about two hours with me every day for the week and we go through different topics like introduction to plant science, soil science, weed control, pesticide use. We talk about when they would need a certification or a license. We talk about the fact that if someone hires you to spray a herbicide or insecticide, you need to have a pesticide applicator’s license," she said.

"At the end we have a graduation ceremony for them. Often times the sheriff will come and participate. We give them a certification. It’s not for credit because this is the extension service but they are able to put that certificate on their resume if they choose and explain what they did in a job interview."

During the program, participants have the chance to sell their produce, under supervision at a weekly farmers markets. During springtime, Wagner said the prisoners may offer five or six types of lettuce to the public. The market puts their knowledge to the test, as inmates may face buyer questions like, "What's the difference between red kale and regular lettuce?"

The market offering encompasses a diversity of products including carrots, tomatoes, squash, hot peppers, strawberries, ground cherries and herbs from the jail's 1.5 acre garden.

Remaining produce is donated to local food banks. Other products intended for public good have included Mother's Day flower baskets and Halloween pumpkins for schools and resource centers.

Once released, former inmates from the program are also given the opportunity to take USU's more extensive, master gardener course on scholarship, if financially needed.

Although not all express interest in the green industry after the program, Wagner has noted a lifestyle impact on many of the men.

"A lot of these guys have families. They have kids at home. I hear a lot of, 'I want to grow a garden with my son or my daughter.' Or, 'I’m a lot more interested in helping my mom with her garden,'" she said.

"A lot of them as well are really turned on to fresh eating, to growing a garden and eating that produce. I have asked them, 'what did you guys typically eat before?' Not a lot of fruits and vegetables for most of them."

Photo: www.utahpests.usu.edu


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