Cook County Jail Garden Harvest Fest 2010

Cook County Jail Garden harvesting.png

Gardens are great equalizers; they're also places where people can get a second chance. Today was the annual harvest festival and graduation ceremony at the Cook County Jail's garden. Really, they need to start calling it an urban farm, a working urban farm.  As I blogged about last year, the jail garden constructed a greenhouse and moved ahead with plans to sell produce grown at the jail garden. Charlie Trotter's and The Publican are two local restaurants that purchased produce grown at the jail garden this year. The bulk of the edible plants grown at the Cook County jail garden were started by detainees from seeds donated by Renee's Garden, who sells culinary herb and vegetable seeds.

(use the arrows in the top-right corner of the photo gallery to navigate the photos)
(use the arrows in the top-right corner of the photo gallery to navigate the photos)
Introductions were made by David S. Devane, Executive Director of D.C.S.I. Opening statements were made by Kenneth H. Treblico, Director. The jail garden received a blessing by Chaplain Harry Roundtree. Ron Wolford and Nancy Kreith of the U of I Extension made statements about the garden's history and what it was like to work with the detainees. Sheriff Tom Dart spoke directly to the detainees about the chance given to them and the choices they faced once they were released. Tobias Johnson, one of the detainees still in jail, spoke about how the garden allowed him to step outside of himself among bleak surroundings. David Beal, a graduate who was already released returned to pick up his certificate and speak about the program. He took a moment to thank Officer O' Donnell and Michael Taff for treating him like a "human" and less like an inmate. Let that sink in for a moment. 
After the speeches the detainees, their family members and chefs from Charlie Trotter's walk through the jail garden and talked about plants and how they're used in the restaurants. As they talked family members were given bags and harvested some vegetables and herbs. These tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, melons will not grace the menu of a fancy restaurant; they'll be taken home by family and enjoyed while they wait to be reunited with their loved ones. 
This year the detainees who graduated from the Master Gardener program were outnumbered by members of the press. Was Mike Flannery there because he has an interest in urban farming? The press was there because they wanted to know if Sheriff Tom Dart would toss his hat in the ring and announce that he'll run for mayor. He didn't rule it out, but there was no official announcement. This wasn't really his day, anyway. It was a day for him, his staff who works with the jail garden and members of the University of Illinois Extension to honor the detainees for completing the program.  Although, the talk amongst gardeners at the event seemed to be optimistic that he would. Considering that Sheriff Dart has been such a big supporter of the jail garden and the program that teaches agricultural skills to non-violent offenders, there's hope that as mayor he'd continue and expand on Mayor Daley's greening efforts. At least that's the sentiment I got from talking to a few of the gardeners there. One thing that Sheriff Dart does seem like he'll expand is the size of the jail garden. This year the sales of the produce generated $3,000 in profits that will be reinvested back into the program so that it doesn't cost taxpayers money.
Cook County Jail Garden.png
Here's the post from last year with more photos from the jail garden. Also, this video I made during last year's harvest festival. 

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  • I think this is one of the most wonderful things. Gardening is such a productive and therapeutic way to pass the time. I bet everyone involved is feeling very good about themselves. And how did they get that watermelon to look so delicious? Mine don't grow well...or they're eaten by the animal nightlife.

  • In reply to jtithof:

    I think maybe the tall fences, people with guns and barbed wire had something to do with wildlife not having an interest in that watermelon. :0)

    This is my second visit to this garden and I'm as impressed and inspired by it as the first time I saw it.

  • In reply to jtithof:

    It's cool they have greenhouses so they can be tending/selling something all year. Cool that Renee donated the seeds, and that restaurants are buying the produce, and that you've seen it all and shared it with us. Definitely lots of potential there.

    Saw a segment on this on WGN last night (why my very basic cable carries a station from Chicago is another question altogether!) and I just loved how one inmate held a cucumber in his hands and marveled "It's something I did!" He also said "As I watched this grow, I've watched myself also grow." Another said, "I like getting my hands dirty. It brings something out of me--I mean, besides sweat." I know just how they feel.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Did you see me? I kept accidentally walking past the detainees where they were being interviewed. D'oh!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Now, you know if I had seen you I'd have taunted you already!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Thanks for the tip on the news story Monica! The video can be viewed at http://tiny.cc/eg7ne .

    This is such an uplifting story MTB. Thank you for making me aware of the jail garden.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I'm sorry I missed this! Great post, great photos. It's good to see something productive being done there.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Great post! What an amazing program. I've seen a lot of new programs coming out like this - one in Colorado where inmates tame wild horses. I think it is very humanizing, like the inmate you quoted said. Wonderful that they're able to participate in an environment where they can learn something positive and connect with nature. I think we sometimes think of these guys as too tough for things like gardening - but that's our fault for underestimating how much skill it takes to garden and forgetting that prisoners are people, despite the trouble they've caused.

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