Last summer there was a special project underway at Stony Mountain Institution’s Minimum Security Unit. The Social Programs department, along with the Inmate Affairs Committee, submitted a proposal to develop a plan and prepare a site for an offender garden space. Upon approval of this request, preparing the gardening site was a task lead by Social Programs Officer Kim Ezzard and FSWEP Student, Alex Holden. With support from security personnel and programs management, concrete planning began in early May 2016.
The growing season was fast approaching and the garden site was transformed into a usable space thanks to a team of six offenders who cleared the land of rocks and weeds. Perry Baker, Building Maintenance Technician, co-ordinated the removal of the rocks and debris and once that was finished, the garden soil was disked by an offender who volunteered to assist.
A grid of plots and walkways was then planned and made by an offender. The plots were made to be 20’ wide and 30’ long, with 4’ wide paths running in between each plot. Perry arranged for a garden shed to be moved onto the garden site to house the project’s shovels, rakes, pails, watering cans, hoses, and inventory sheets. Perry also moved four large water tanks that were placed around the garden to provide easy access to water for all of the plots.
Once the garden site was prepared, meetings were held with the offenders. Participating offenders chose a garden liaison from each of the houses. These liaisons attended regular meetings, workshops, and discussions held throughout the project timeline. They also worked with their housemates to decide which plot they would claim and seeds and seedlings they would purchase together. Nearly all houses had at least two to four members participating, adding up to almost 70 offenders. With such a high number of participants, there was a positive buzz of excitement for the soon available garden program.
Seeds and seedlings such as peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, and several other vegetables were ordered by offenders. By the second week of June, the offenders’ plants were in the ground and sprouts were shooting up. Care for the garden was the sole responsibility of participating offenders. They could weed, water and care for their plots during their leisure activity time outside of working hours. This proved to be a positive and enjoyable activity for the garden participants.
Over the course of the garden project, social programs staff walked around the garden and visited with some of the participating offenders. Many gardeners would direct the attention of staff to the attributes of their gardens they were most proud of. One participant pointed to his rows of onions that were showing well rounded bulbs, while another described the potatoes that were almost ready to harvest. The offenders felt it was a privilege to have fresh produce to eat and commented on how great it was to have a productive and cathartic use of their time where they could work and reflect.
By August the garden plots were heading into the peak of their growth. Rows and rows of plots were full to the brim with green leafy growth. By the end of the season the haul of the gardens was so impressive that excess vegetables were delivered to Siloam Mission in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Siloam Mission is a Christian humanitarian organization that provides meals, clothing and hope to Winnipeg’s poor and homeless by serving three meals a day, 365 days of the year. The kitchen staff was very happy to have fresh vegetables to cook and serve for others in need to enjoy.