Green is the new orange: Barren County’s sustainable jail garden


  • BY WILL PERKINS wperkins@glasgowdailytimes.com
  • Sep 22, 2016

Jail garden project

GLASGOW – With the sun beating down on their faces and fresh air filling their lungs, Barren County Detention Center inmates Melissa House and Andrea Borgemenke shoveled dirt into a wheelbarrow.

When it was full, they wheeled the dirt over to a large mound in the new addition of the BCDC garden.

House and Borgemenke were among eight female inmates participating in the first public workshop of the Breaking Ground: A Sustainable Jail Garden/Food Justice Project on Thursday. Community members and college students joined the inmates in creating the new garden beds.

“We’re all pitching in helping to get this built so we can go ahead and plant the vegetables and everything else that needs to be planted in the beds,” Borgemenke said. “I’m excited about it.”

House said the gardening project has been a really good experience.

“I come to jail and I come out an environmentalist,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about gardening and I’m gonna’ grow my own vegetables and go from there.

“I know I can get it right when I go home. I don’t have to second guess or question anything.”

The jail garden project began in January after Nicole Breazeale, assistant professor of sociology at Western Kentucky University-Glasgow, approached Barren County Jailer Matt Mutter about starting it.

“It’s an educational project,” Breazeale said. “I’m teaching undergraduates and incarcerated women together inside the facility, teaching them about food and food injustices.

“And then there’s a little bit of outside work where we’re learning about agricology as one way to get more control over our food system.”

Breazeale said her Food, Community and Social Change students and the inmates are learning different types of sustainable agriculture techniques from local farmers in the region.

The BCDC inmates have already been eating vegetables produced from the garden.

Borgemenke said they “get to take the vegetables that are out here and mix them in with the food they serve in the jail.”

The BCDC currently has 30 garden beds, and on Thursday they were working on adding an additional hugelkultur mound, which has wooden logs underneath dirt, leaves, manure and hay. The wood acts as a sponge that retains rainwater.

“You don’t have to water these raised beds and they’re way more productive,” Breazeale said. “And you don’t have to add fertilizer or anything.”

Permaculture designer Timothy Kercheville stood on a huge mound of dirt and shoveled it into a wheelbarrow while he wore a giant smile. He said they use experimental techniques and standard raised beds and that this garden project has influenced others in the region.

“The success of this project has already outgrown into the SOKY Community Gardening Initiative,” he said. “There’s a series of 10 community gardens in the Barren River counties that were funded by the Barren River Health Department.

“So this community garden over here at the jail has spread already across the 10 counties. And that’s just after one semester.”

Sierra Morris, a sophomore nursing major at WKU-Glasgow, said she attended the workshop so she could learn more about hugelkultur and use the techniques in her own garden in Logan County.

“I’ll probably end up coming back because everyone is so nice,” she said. “And it’s just really fulfilling whenever you do hard work.”

WKU-Glasgow junior Chloe Hurt was in Breazeale’s initial class that started the project during the spring semester.

“I don’t think anyone really knew what it was going to turn into,” she said. “We just kind of started from a great idea. We had tremendous community support and it was really amazing to see how many different parts of the community came together to support.”

BCDC chief deputy Tracy Bellamy said the project has made a positive impact on the inmates.

“It’s taught ’em a resource that they can use,” he said. “It’s something being productive versus them sitting inside the cells.

“We encourage everyone (in the community) to be a part of it and see what they’re doing.”

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