A gardening project and learning experience

When the Jamieson Community Correctional Centre (CCC) opened in August 2017, there were plans to grow a vegetable and flower garden on site. By the spring of 2018, the gardening project officially began as a collaboration between the CCC’s manager and CORCAN’s Employment and Employability Program.

The project was managed by a community employment coordinator in partnership with students from Enactus Saint Mary’s University, the largest student leadership organization in the world that is committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better more sustainable world.

From early discussions to planting the seeds, residents of the CCC were interested and engaged in the process. They helped build 10 raised planter boxes, fill the boxes with soil, plant flowers for the front entrance, pot the seedlings, plant the vegetables, weed, dig holes for the fruit trees, and harvest the produce. They were also involved in ongoing maintenance required at the garden.

More than 20 offenders worked in the garden over the summer months into the fall, some with lots of experience in gardening and some with none at all. A variety of vegetables as well as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries were grown. An apple and pear tree were also planted during this time.

In addition to this, CCC residents eagerly participated in workshops to learn more about gardening, such as composting, recycling, crop rotation, etc. As part of this, they developed new skills that included teamwork, planning and problem solving, following directions, and learning patience. Some were even motivated to start growing food with their families.

Some of the food grown in the garden, such as lettuce, green onions, zucchini and radishes, were donated to a community food bank to help those in need: “We should give back to those who have less than us,” a resident said.

To help residents eat healthier, the CCC hosted nutritional days where certain produce from the garden was used to prepare shared meals and dishes such as caesar salad, smoothies with veggies, spaghetti sauce with zucchini noodles, and their favourite, chocolate zucchini cake. Some of the residents tasted vegetables they had never eaten before and were surprised they enjoyed them.

As well, the gardening project created an opportunity to increase nutritional intake and physical activity, as well as provide an area to sit and be in peace. Because of the CCC’s location, the residents had an opportunity to see wildlife on a daily basis including deer, snakes and ground hogs. This made watching over the garden interesting, especially for those who had never had the opportunity to see these creatures in their natural habitat.

It is expected that the lessons learned over the last year will be used to expand the program, as well as to increase the amount of produce grown and implement composting to reuse in the garden. An in-house food bank operated by a volunteer and a resident has also started to take shape, with the goal of giving back to the community. Partnerships to help with this endeavour are welcomed.

On March 18, 2019, Enactus Saint Mary’s presented the Jamieson CCC gardening project at their regional competition and received the Scotiabank Environmental Challenge Award for best project in their category. Congratulations to everyone involved!

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