Horticulture programs help ex-offenders seek successful reentry

Participants in City Green’s Garden Corps program.

While horticultural and gardening programs within jails and prisons provide excellent training to prepare inmates for possible post-release employment, similar programs for ex-offenders can do the same. They also, in many cases, provide internships and even paid employment.

Garden Corps, operated by City Green in Paterson, N.J., is one of these. It offers ex-offenders an eight- to 12-week course in sustainable landscaping and organic gardening practices. Those who successfully complete the class have a chance to participate in a four- to six-week internship program. The program’s objectives, in addition to conducting horticulture training, include teaching participants job skills, self-esteem and interpersonal skills that will aid them in their reentry. Garden Corps will also give them a chance to assume leadership roles and gain a sense of the positive impact they can have within their community.

About 20 students at a time take part in the course. The ex-offenders are chosen by three of City Green’s partners – St. Paul’s Community Development Corp., the Kintock Group, and Straight and Narrow, Inc. (part of Catholic Charities) – that work with ex-offenders.  After participants complete the course, City Green staff members choose those who will go on to have an internship.

The New York Horticultural Society, which runs the GreeenHouse horticultural training program on Rikers Island (see previous week’s blog entry), also operates GreenTeam, an internship program for GreenHouse graduates. GreenTeam provides further horticultural training, as well as transitional work opportunities, job placement and help in developing job search skills.

The Society has contracts with all five New York boroughs, and GreenTeam members work on projects that include maintaining gardens, installing green roofs on the buildings of nonprofit organizations, landscaping city parks and planting trees in local neighborhoods.

Although it’s not specifically for ex-offenders – the organization was actually created in 1993 by former professional basketball player Will Allen to give local teens an opportunity to grow food for their families – Milwaukee’s Growing Power offers training in horticulture both at its national headquarters and at satellite sites around the country. The training is geared towards members of community groups to teach them how to plan, develop, operate and maintain community food projects in both urban and rural areas. The weekend trainings are offered once a month from January through June, and about 14 scholarships, which include the workshop fee, transportation and accommodations, are offered for each one.

Those who would like to work as an intern on a farm and learn firsthand from the farmers who own it can find opportunities in the Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships Directory on the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service website at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/index.php.  Just click on a state on the map of the U.S. to find a list of individual farms in that state that offer internship and apprenticeship programs.

For more information on the programs in this article, visit their websites at:

City Green’s Garden Corps program   http://citygreenonline.org

New York Horticultural Society’s GreenTeam   https://www.thehort.org/

Growing Power


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