Creating a Sustainable Prison Horticulture Program
Deborah Rutt envisions a community where even the most marginalized among us has the opportunity to connect with nature, become stewards of the planet, and take part in the larger movement toward creating a sustainable future. Debbie believes that organic horticulture in prisons can serve this vision by engaging incarcerated people in a shared sense of responsibility to the environment and empowering them to be contributing members of healthy families and communities.
The number of incarcerated people in the United States has exceeded 2.3 million. While one in 100 adults in this country are now in prison or jail, these men and women have fewer opportunities while serving their sentences to get the education and skills they will need to find success for themselves and their families when they are released back into their communities.
Over the past three years, Debbie has worked with prison administrators, community volunteers and students at Portland State University to develop an organic garden at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon’s state prison for women. The garden employs incarcerated women in growing nutritious food for prison meals and for donation to local food banks. The gardeners work with volunteers to teach courses in beginning organic gardening to their fellow inmates. The program also includes a family garden that engages incarcerated women and their children in shared activities that offer education and parenting skills.
With the support of the Toyota TogetherGreen fellowship, Debbie developed a sustainable prison horticulture program that modeled environmentally sound practices by utilizing the resources at the prison, including the harvesting of Oregon’s abundant rainwater for irrigation, and the composting of food waste from the prison kitchen. These resources allowed a sustainable expansion of the garden and development of a greenhouse program, involving more women in organic horticulture and community service by growing vegetable starts for community gardens throughout the state and native plants for habitat restoration in the region. To Debbie, the greatest value in this garden and Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship was the opportunity to demonstrate that all of us have the potential to grow and learn, engage in conservation and contribute to a sustainable future.