Unconventional gardening in Woodford County

EUREKA - Tomatoes, carrot tops, edible flowers; all things you might find in your own garden.

Now they're growing at the Woodford County Jail.

The female inmates are learning skills they can take home with them when their sentence is over; gardening. In fact, this is a completely inmate-run garden, through the teachings of the University of Illinois Extension.

"The inmates do all of the work,” said Kelly Allsup, a UOI Extension Horticulture Educator. “They actually are like, Kelly, don't work so we can stay out here longer. And I'm like, okay, I'm not used to not working but I try to direct them and tell them why I'm doing things."

Inmates at the Woodford County Jail are learning everything from seeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Once the fresh food is harvested, Allsup takes the produce to the cook.

"I bring her in carrot tops, who knows what to do with carrot tops,” said Allsup. “So I was just like, put it in a salad."        

Inmates enjoy spending time outside. Allsup teaches the jail's female inmates how to plant and harvest. When she's gone, male inmates help water the plants.

"Not being inside, and just you know, to see this stuff grow,” said Quinton Arbuckle, Woodford County Jail Facilities Maintenance Director. “They like to come out and might be a couple days since they were out last. They get to come out and see the changes and stuff."

Allsup said most of the women don't get to see the project through to completion, but they earn important life skills while they're there. Once they leave the jail, they know what it takes to grow their own gardens.

"I think everybody should grow plants, that is what humans are supposed to do, we're supposed to grow our own food, we're supposed to grow plants, we're supposed to see the beauty of growing plants," said Allsup.

And with summer coming to an end, Allsup has plans to keep the project going.

“I'm a big advocate of Fall gardening so we will keep gardening as long as it's not freezing,” said Allsup.

This is the first year for the project. The jail and the UOI Extension Office plan to continue their partnership again next year. They hope to grow more perennial produce like, asparagus, strawberries and potatoes.

 


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