Since 1993, the Department of Community Supervision and Intervention (DCSI) at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, IL has given inmates the opportunity to participate in its Jail Garden Project. The project, which has supplied over 500 tons of fresh produce to area homeless shelters and non-profit organizations since its inception, produces an average of 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of produce per season.
Increasingly, efforts are being made to incorporate organic management practices into the project. Working closely with experts from the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, participating inmates are trained in organic farming and gardening through a variety of hands-on learning experiences that expose them to everything from planting to harvesting. Since 2000, this training, along with classroom instruction and written and on-site testing, has resulted in more than 150 inmates receiving Master Gardener’s Certificates.
Going forth, project directors hope to be able to expand their organic activities by supplying local restaurants with fresh, organic produce grown in the Jail Garden. To this end, they are working to secure donations to build a three-season greenhouse in which organic vegetables and herbs can be grown and later sold on the Chicago restaurant market. As Mike Taff, who works on the Jail Garden Project with others at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, explains, “We [at DCSI] are willing to partner with anyone to achieve our goals of moving from a seasonal operation to a year-round one, getting more inmates through the Master Gardener program, and feeding more community members who are in need.”
For more information on the Jail Garden Project, contact David Devane at 773-869-7959.