In the Folsom Zoo Inmate Garden Project, inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento harvest vegetables grown on prison grounds. These vegetables are given to the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary, for the rescued animals that live there. About 600 pounds of vegetables have been raised and donated to the animal sanctuary so far.
The donated produce includes sunflowers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, honey boat squash and a variety of peppers. The carnivorous animals at times used the squash for scratching and playing. Marc Elia, the prison’s Community Partnership Manager said, “We want to partner with others to benefit our community, Sometimes that’s easy to say, but harder to do. This time, the plan came together and everybody benefits.” (Source: Folsom.ca.us)
The animals benefit by receiving fresh, natural food (instead of processed pet food) which keeps them healthy. The animal sanctuary saves money on animal food and vet bills. The prisoners benefit from physical exercise, and also caring for the plants and helping feed the animals. Catherine Sneed, who founded a prison garden program explains the value for participants, “Today, for most prisoners, the work begins in a greenhouse with small plants that need constant nurturing. Each person cares for particular plants and learns, by watching them grow, the true nature of this life: growth, renewal, and perseverance. Somewhere during the time spent quietly working the earth, something happens and something changes. Witnessing the cycle of growth and renewal allows the prisoners to see their own potential for growth and change. People often ask me what I did to inspire people to work. I tell them that it wasn’t me, it was the plants.” (Source: yesmagazine.org)
Another benefit for the prisoners is simply job skills development. After they have learned how to grow and harvest plants, it may help them get a job if they are released. They also have the skills to grow their own food.
The project began as a result of a Chamber of Commerce meeting where the prison warden learned the zoo was undergoing some financial difficulty, like many city programs. They hatched a plan to help the animals, and the Folsom Wal-Mart agreed to donate the seeds for the garden. After a successful summer season, a winter planting will yield various types of lettuce in addition to some of the same plants grown during the summer. They want to establish the garden as permanent, adding fruit and nut trees. Jill Lute, the zoo’s supervisor said, “We really try to feed a wide variety of organic fruits and vegetables for their health, and for the majority, our animals have long lasting lifespans. These animals are essentially in prisons behind bars … so their diet is really something the animals look forward to.” (Source: Folsomtelegraph.com)
If you want to visit the zoo, or just learn more about them, visit their website.
Image Credit: Public Domain