Many of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated adults we work with were incarcerated as youth. Youth who spend their teenage years incarcerated are often released as young adults into hostile, violent, and seemingly hopeless environments, with little legal economic opportunities to support themselves and their families. We have seen time and again the potential for personal transformation that comes with transformation of space: when people turn ugly, unused spaces into vibrant productive ecosystems, it begins to breakdown a victim mentality that tells us we are not powerful, and opens our eyes to the power of cooperation and creativity in creating a better world around us. Building and tending a garden that feeds a community accomplishes this in tangible ways that engage all senses. This garden will likely bring some joy and respite into the lives of these youth, and together with the culinary arts program that has just begun at the center, offers hard skills that these young people can use the rest of their lives to achieve healthier, safer, and more peaceful conditions for themselves and their communities.
With the support of Rotary, we will build a community garden inside the Stanislaus County Juvenile Commitment Center, that will serve as an inspirational, beautiful, and productive space for all the youth involved. With the youth, we will transform the space by building approximately 12 raised beds for intensive seasonal vegetable production, a trellis for grapes and passionfruit, a berry patch for blueberries and flowers, and an edible mushroom garden to grow medicinal and nutritious shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Our objectives are to produce the healthiest and most sustainably grown organic food possible, to be used in conjunction with the kitchen and culinary arts program inside the center, while also cultivating pride, teamwork, motivation, patience, job-ready skills, and a collective sense of accomplishment among the youth. Our goal is to create space for 60 incarcerated youth to experience the peace and inspiration that a thriving and diverse ecosystem provides, enrich their relationship with food, and deepen their connection to/respect for the Earth and Life itself.