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Prison Gardening Programs Provide Purpose (And Food) For Inmates

Starting a garden is a great way to put healthy, fresh produce on your table while developing a meaningful connection with the food you eat. Growing your own food, even if it is just a few herbs, in a small indoor herb garden is an excellent idea for anyone looking to optimize their health and develop a deeper understanding of where their food comes from. 

When you think of someone starting a garden, you probably envision a couple of raised garden beds or a beautiful greenhouse that match the decor of a well-landscaped property. What you probably don’t imagine is a scene out of the Shawshank Redemption or prisoners tending to flower beds and vegetable gardens.  

Well, gardening has become a popular undertaking in some U.S. prisons that has grown out of necessity. For some prisoners looking to grow their own food, seeds (not cigarettes or instant noodles) are now their most prized contraband. 

Food insecurity is a big problem in the U.S. Millions of Americans struggle to access fresh produce or other healthy food options daily. Most of these Americans live in food deserts in rural America, where there are limited grocery stores and other fresh food options. However, there is another group that is often ignored and left in the margins whenever we discuss food insecurity: incarcerated people. 

The men and women inside U.S. prisons have never really had access to nutritious food, and during the COVID pandemic, this problem only worsened. Due to gross understaffing and supply chain shortages, many U.S. prisons were left unable to follow their documented menu, which, nutritionally speaking, was lacking in the first place. 

A prison garden can offer a docile activity that teaches inmates a viable skill

Grits for breakfast, peanut butter on white bread for lunch, and rice and biscuits for dinner became the staple diet for many prisoners across the country. If chicken or beef did somehow make its way to a prison delivery, protein portions were rationed. You don’t have to be a nutrition expert to point out all the nutritional holes in a diet made out of just processed grains and peanut butter served in different ways.

This led to a rise in tensions between prisoners and staff. Slowly, fruits and vegetables began reappearing on plates to help alleviate the situation, but some prisoners still decided they needed to take matters into their own hands. At a Georgia Central State Prison, several men revived a previously defunct greenhouse garden therapy program and grew some of their own food. 

The greenhouse cannot produce enough to feed more than 1,000 men on a regular basis, but it does add some welcomed change to the menu from time to time. There might be a serving of corn on the cob, okra, string beans, potatoes, cabbage, or turnips that make their way onto the prison menu from time to time, serving as a small morale boost for the population in a place where a little bit of morale can go a long way. 

The key takeaway? There is something inspirational about a group of prisoners taking their nutrition into their own hands and gardening to provide fresh produce for their community. Regardless of the cards life has dealt you, we should all have access to nutritious foods, and that will always be something worth working for.

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