Sheriff, inmates and U of M Extension Master Gardener collaborate in Itasca County
For the last six years, Susan Lick, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer, has been preparing the soil at the Grand Rapids YMCA vegetable garden with the help of some unusual workers. Inmates in the Itasca County Sheriff’s Department Sentence to Serve program till and augment the soil, repair equipment and compost bins, and otherwise make the garden ready for the Y’s school-age childcare program.
More than 50 children planted and maintained the garden over 12 weeks in the summer of 2018. They learned gardening skills along with water conservation and composting, and volunteers introduced them to the science of horticulture. They also learned about nutrition through preparing and eating the vegetables from the garden.
The Sentence to Serve participants, led by Sheriff’s Department supervisor John Linder, helped with the heavy lifting once the children were done with their program. They hauled debris, and serviced and stored equipment for the winter. What was grown in the Y garden was harvested for the childcare program.
Linder found a patch of county property for the Sentence to Serve crew to plant their own garden. Lick hopes to help them start seeds indoors early this coming spring to get a jump on summer planting for their new garden. They will harvest their produce for the county courthouse cafeteria and the culinary work skills program. Lick says the crew are hard workers, carefully supervised by Linder.
“It’s hard to find anyone else willing to do the job,” says Lick. “And they do great work.”
The Master Gardeners hope to establish some healthy eating and growing habits in the inmates' garden.
The youth gardening program success is partly due to the hard work performed by the inmates. Lick says the inmates “see the whole cycle” from building the garden to harvest. The workers not only learn new skills, but also have the opportunity to re-enter the community in a positive way. She thinks other counties and Extension Master Gardener programs would benefit from collaborations similar to what is happening in Itasca County.
Learn more on Extension's Master Gardener website.