Farm Talk

Area Farm & Ranch News

August 27, 2013

Garden for Good: Inmates finding peace, helping community

Parsons, Kansas — On about one and one-half acres of fertile Kansas soil, neatly-kept rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes and other produce greet visitors to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

Welcome to the Garden for Good, where 30 inmates — trained as Kansas Master Gardeners — find respite from the harsh realities of life behind bars.

For the past three years, this has been their labor of love. But the Garden for Good is as its name suggests: a symbol of the inmates’ fierce determination to make good with themselves and the local community.

“When I’m in the garden,” says inmate Keith Mathis, “I guess you could say it’s a retreat, away from the animosity, away from the negativity that’s inside the (prison) dorms. It’s not all negativity, but there’s a lot of it, because you know, you’re in prison.

“But you get out here and you put something in the ground, watch it, water it and the next thing you know it’s growing. You’re eating it, you’re taking the seeds and the next year you’re planting seeds that you’ve harvested. It gives you a sense of pride.”

In 2012, the Garden for Good donated more than 6,700 pounds of produce and $2,500 to such community groups as the Christian soup kitchen and the food bank of Reno County. This year, the group set a goal to donate 10,000 pounds of produce, and donate $5,000 to area groups.

“We sell (produce) to the inmates here at a price that is a little less than market value on the street, because a lot of these guys don’t make very much money,” said Gary Robbins, president of the garden’s inmate-only board.

“We put that money back into the garden, and whatever we don’t need for the garden, we donate to local groups such as the local Boys and Girls Club, the local sexual assault center, the food bank, (and) several other places.”

Doug Barr, the administrator for the prison, said that inmates came up with the idea of Garden for Good three years ago. Three inmate groups submitted a proposal in which they promised to raise their own money and do all the work.

The prison’s administration approved the proposal, provided the land, and helped to set up classes with K-State Research and Extension’s Master Gardeners program.

“All of us who have gone through the course are certified Kansas Master Gardeners,” said Victor Mitchell, one of the garden’s original members. Each year, 10-12 inmates are accepted to take the classes, which are taught inside the prison walls by volunteer Extension Master Gardeners.

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