Some male inmates at the high-security Garner Correctional Institution who meet strict criteria set by prison officials are now participating in an educational/recreational program that allows them to spend time outdoors tending to organic vegetables grown in prison gardens for the benefit of those incarcerated, as well as some town residents in need.
Garner Warden Scott Semple explained that Garner is one of several state prisons where gardens are being kept to provide fresh produce. The Garner vegetable garden project is now in its third year, he said.
Garner has three gardens — one in an expansive filed near the prison’s helipad, another within a large courtyard near the prison chapel, and a third in another courtyard where the prison’s acute psychiatric inmates spend time outdoors.
Amonda Hannah, the prison’s deputy warden for programs and treatment, oversees the program, which is managed by Carl Ruegg, Garner’s recreation supervisor.
Mr Ruegg explained that the gardens produce a range of vegetables and herbs. Vegetables grown include pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, peppers, carrots, lettuce, and cucumbers. Herbs include oregano, basil, dill, savory spice, sage, and mint.
Last year, the gardens yielded 2,200 pounds of produce. This year, the yield is expected to be much higher. Warden Semple said the prison is seeking to harvest 7,000 pounds of produce this year.
Produce grown at the gardens is served to the inmates. It also is used in the prison’s vocational education program in culinary arts in which prisoners learn a trade, said Warden Semple.
Warden Semple has run Garner for the past three years. The 260,000-square-foot institution opened in 1992. It specializes in housing and treating inmates with psychiatric disorders. It holds roughly 650 prisoners.
Warden Semple said he appreciates that Mr Ruegg took on the project, instructing inmates how to garden to have successful harvests.
“It’s a joy to be given an opportunity to do this,” Mr Ruegg said of the gardening program.
Mr Ruegg explained that many more inmates seek to participate in the gardening project than the about 15 prisoners who are chosen to do so. Inmates must exhibit good behavior to take part, he said.
Ms Hannah said that the prisoners selected for the gardening were chosen from several dozen who had applied to participate.
“This is a sought-after activity. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work,” Warden Semple said.
In the wintertime, before the growing season starts, participating inmates receive classroom instruction in gardening techniques, Mr Ruegg said.
On August 7, Garner representatives delivered a large amount of organically grown produce to the town Social Services Department at Town Hall South. Residents who use the department’s services will be able to obtain free vegetables there.