Archive for Friday, August 26, 2011

Inmates at Leavenworth Federal Prison cultivating garden and sharing their bounty with the community

Inmates at Leavenworth Federal Prison work in the garden area that is part of its Therapy and Mentoring Horticulture Program.

Inmates at Leavenworth Federal Prison work in the garden area that is part of its Therapy and Mentoring Horticulture Program.

August 26, 2011


Prison garden project

Thomas Sheldrake, a spokesman for the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, discusses the prison's two-year-old gardening project. This year, the program is expected to donate more than 200,000 pounds of food to food banks around the area, including several shipments to the the Just Food food bank in Lawrence. All of the equipment and supplies are donated by community members, and the project uses no prison funds to operate. Enlarge video

Lawrence residents struggling with hunger have received a helping hand this summer from an unlikely source: inmates at the Leavenworth Federal Prison.

On 17 acres, about 50 minimum-security inmates tend to an organic and self-sustaining farm as part of the prison’s Therapy and Mentoring Horticulture Program. Last summer, the project yielded more than 100,000 pounds of produce used at the prison or donated to food banks. This year, prison staff expects twice that.

Kansas University graduate student Raven Naramore heard about the project through a family member and has helped get the fruits and veggies to the Lawrence Just Food food bank.

The project features cutting-edge sustainability practices, said Joe Mason, prison food services coordinator.

Mason walks the prison grounds explaining rainwater collecting tubs, the half acre compost plot and the indoor worm bins, where red wiggly worms process the prison’s food waste, turning it into a nutrient-rich liquid called “black gold” that will be used on the crops as fertilizer.

“It’s a very green system,” Mason said.

The project costs taxpayers nothing, as all the seeds, equipment and labor is salvaged or donated by community members.

“Everything’s about partnerships,” Mason said.

More than half of the produce is distributed to non-profit groups throughout the region, and there’s a planned shipment to tornado-stricken Joplin, Mo.

Food donations were at first kept local, but as the project produced more goods, food donations branched out, said Brian Habjan, a citizen member of the prison’s community relations board and vice president of Commerce Bank in Leavenworth.

“We’re open to any group that wants to be involved,” Habjan said.

In addition to providing food to the needy, the project has another function: teaching inmates valuable horticulture skills for when they’re released.

About a dozen inmates are enrolled in a 4,000-hour horticulture certificate program, and another 40 or so inmates participate in the project which produces a wide variety of crops, including watermelon, tomatoes, squash, corn, strawberries and garlic.

Mason said the program already boasts success stories of released inmates who’ve gone on to start successful horticulture careers based on what they’ve learned on the inside.

And better job prospects for parolees means a lower risk of returning to prison, Mason said.

As word has spread about the project, a wide range of good-hearted citizens have donated everything from pallets to gardening tools to produce boxes.

Mason and prison staff members haggled over estimates of how much poundage the project will produce this year. The conservative estimate is 200,000 pounds, but Mason thinks it could hit 300,000.

“When we first started, we just had a little garden,” Mason said.

For more information or to donate, contact Brian Habjan at 913-758-2822 or


InspectorJo 6 years, 10 months ago

Great Article,

This is a wonderful way for the inmates to help out the community while helping themselves. Growing and maintaining a garden will establish ownership, pride, self confidence, peace of mind and the fact that they are helping others out is an everlasting feeling. Glad to see these kinds of programs that benifite EVERYONE!!!! Thank you gardners for helping out the Lawrence Community.!!!!!

Shaun Hittle 6 years, 10 months ago

It really was amazing to see how self-sufficient the whole operation was. Who'd have thought cutting edge gardening at the old prison.

blindrabbit 6 years, 10 months ago

Back in the 60's I was working with a young man who had been incarcerated in the Arkansas State system. he relayed that part of their summer work program was tending to the considerable prison garden; his assignment was tending the okra plot. If any of you have worked with okra (it makes your skin itch terribly) you can imagine his punishment was severe, 100+ degree days, in a sweaty Arkansas field. He was more than glad to return to his cell each evening.

Aurora_Blue 6 years, 9 months ago

This program is 100% voluntary. There is actually a waiting list over 50 people long to volunteer to work in the gardens. They did away with forced labor in the prison system a while ago. It is interesting to note here however, that the prison used to be self-sufficient. It owns over 1600 acres in which it grew crops, raised dairy cows, beef cows, pigs, chickens and raised feed crops. Not only was the food nutritious, it offered a way for inmates to engage in exercise and be of service to themselves. The diet related diseases that all Americans are facing are also effecting prisoners, and the health care costs associated with treating their illness is carried by the tax payers. Now what makes more sense; to contract with big corporations for food that has to be shipped hundreds or maybe thousands of miles or to let people grow their own food, which is healthier, cheaper and benefits society as a whole?

mikeryan 6 years, 9 months ago

Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly the kind of thing that local food production systems can bring; societal change, respect and mutual benefit.

Bravo to the folks at Leavenworth, and thank you to the LJ-Dub for making a point to highlight such an excellent and admirable program.

Adrienne Sanders 6 years, 9 months ago

That's awesome! Not sure how likely this is to get them jobs when/if they get out of prison, but it's still really nice that they learn a skill and help provide for themselves and others.

Pastor_Bedtime 6 years, 9 months ago

Will the new Homeless Shelter have its own garden?

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