Gardening goes to prison

The Minnesota Legislature today embraced an innovative program that apparently makes too much sense to ignore — gardens in prison.

In passing an omnibus corrections bill today, the Minnesota House fairly gushed over a provision establishing a gardening program for inmates at each correctional facility in the state. The goal is to grow enough food to feed the inmates, with excess produce going to food shelves and charities.

The idea springs from an experiment from San Francisco . The Garden Project of San Francisco started selling fresh produce to a hip restaurant. The woman who founded the program in 1992 said she realized its potential in a post-release program when one of her “students” asked the sheriff for permission to stay and work on the farm.


An increasing number of prisons are launching gardening programs: on-site gardens improve the nutritional intake of inmates and as a direct result can reduce violence and improve participants’ mental health, teaches horticultural skills that can be used upon inmates’ release (slashing recidivism rates), and also often produce surplus that is sent to food banks or other community centers or services. Here’s just a sampler of such programs that have started since Sneed’s Garden Project, or even before.

The Insight Garden Program, also in the Bay Area, runs a 1,200 square-foot organic flower garden at the the medium-security San Quention Prison, where classes are given to teach inmates about gardening, environmental sustainability, and community care through gardening. (Go here for more examples)

This is Cathrine Sneed. It’s her idea:

  • Shannon

    This is so cool!

  • jon

    My understanding is it takes roughly 1 acre to grow enough to sustain 1 person on a vegetarian diet. Where is the land for this going to come from for 6,000+ MN inmates?

    Still sounds like a fine project.

  • Pat

    I like the idea of the gardens. Something useful and rewarding to do. But, last time I checked, there is a big difference in the climates of San Francisco and Minnesota. Hence, more marketable crops for more of the year than here.

  • Wenchypoo

    This will probably end up just like the school garden projects did–all was well and good until the USDA decided the garden food wasn’t good enough to pass inspection, and that it wasn’t handled or processed properly, so it nixed the whole school cafeteria garden thing.

    Prisons are state or federal, and wherever food is being served, health inspections must be passed–this means everybody is going to end up taking cues from the USDA, because they make the rules.

    The gardens are a good idea, but the food will never reach the intended destinations. It’s funny, because the government (well, Michelle Obama anyway) came up with this idea, and the government always ends up killing its own golden goose by way of regulation.

    This is probably why we also end up shoveling tons of money into foreign aid, instead of simply teaching a man to fish for his own…

  • http://www.crystalwaterbeads.com/ Jenny

    If this is successful, imagine how much taxpayers can save per inmate? I believe it will be a great deal and a good opportunity for inmates to learn some skills.