Orange is the new green: produce from prisons
June 6th, 2014
12:00 PM ET
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Kate Krader (@kkrader on Twitter) is Food & Wine's restaurant editor. When she tells us where to find our culinary heart's desire, we listen up.

The first season of the Netflix hit show Orange is the New Black featured a series of prison food posters, with recipes attached. Among the highlights: Prison Pad Thai (four ingredients: ramen noodles, peanut butter, peanuts and hot sauce) and Prison Tamales with a beef jerky filling.

For those of us who haven't binge-watched all of the second season yet, there's no word yet on what the prison food situation will be (beyond that the show’s cookbook comes out in October). I wonder if the star of the series, Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling), will start a garden. Because that’s what’s happening at a lot of prisons around the country.

Farm programs, like the ones below, teach inmates about nutrition, how to grow food and related life-skill lessons. The programs supply healthy food for prison cafeterias as well as for nearby restaurants and homeless shelters. Not only that: These gardening programs have been shown to reduce the rate of repeated incarceration. Bring on the #OITNB Cellblock Caesar Salad.

Cook County Jail - Chicago, Illinois
For more than 20 years, the Cook County Sheriff’s Pre-Release Center (in partnership with the University of Illinois) has worked with inmates on a vegetable garden that supplies homeless shelters, nonprofits and restaurants throughout Chicago. Local hero chef Matthias Merges (of Yusho, Billy Sunday and A10) is a fan. “It’s a way to give back to the community,” says Merges, who hires graduates of the program and teaches about growing restaurant-grade produce. Inmates can earn a Master Gardener certificate. The jail’s garden recently added a greenhouse and has been experimenting with aquaculture; they’ve been generating more than 9,000 pounds of produce per a year.

Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility - San Diego, California
Farm and Rehabilitation Meals (FARM) is a brand-new program at one of San Diego’s prisons, aimed at creating a self-sustaining food supply for the prison cafeteria and reducing the recidivism rate. It’s still in the roll-out phase, but the three-acre farm cost only $4,000 (funded by private donations) to launch, and will teach inmates about sustainable agriculture and nutrition. Wehtahnah Tucker, the program’s coordinator, saw the success of similar programs around the country and wanted to create a program that would teach sustainable practices, as well as reduce the prison’s re-entry rate.

Woodbourne Correctional Facility - Sullivan County, New York
The Bard Prison Initiative (which also works with five other New York state prisons and allows inmates to earn liberal arts degrees while behind bars) was started in 1999 and enrolls 275 students per year. At Woodbourne, the program includes a large organic garden, where inmates can learn about sustainable gardening, cooking and food politics across the country. Students are also required to attend classes discussing food’s role in society (recommended reading includes The Omnivore’s Dilemma). The garden supplies more than 500 pounds of produce per year for local food banks.

San Quentin State Prison - San Quentin, California
Planting Justice is the brainchild of a Bay Area-based nonprofit and Insight Garden Program (which started a flower gardening program at San Quentin more than 10 years ago). Last year they planted the very first vegetable garden inside a California prison. Like similar programs, Planting Justice’s aim is to reduce the recidivism rate (they say that it’s only 10 percent among participants in the gardening program), as well as teach post-prison job skills. In fact, Planting Justice has hired 10 former inmates to work on landscaping over the past three years.

Rikers Island - New York City
Launched in 1996, GreenHouse is a Rikers program for incarcerated men and women created by the Horticultural Society of New York. The program has a “jail-to-street” approach, which uses horticultural therapy to teach skills like design, construction and maintenance of the gardens; GreenHouse’s domain is, in fact, a greenhouse, as well as a classroom and two and a half acres of garden, all designed by inmates. Graduates have the chance to join the internship program GreenTeam after they’re released from Rikers.

More from Food & Wine:
Ultimate Summer Vegetable Recipes
Vegetable Side Dishes
33 Grilled Vegetable Recipes
Vegetarian Pasta Dishes
Roasted Vegetable Ideas

Inmates grow roots as jailhouse farmers
Serving time at an inmate-staffed restaurant inside a prison
Last orders – death row menu requests
A mission of hope in an urban garden

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Filed under: Business and Farming News • Content Partner • Farms • Food and Wine • Gardening • Gardening • Local Food • Prison

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. sam

    Good idea to give the inmates something to do. However, prisons should be teaching inmates a money making trade so they can have a real job when they get out of prison. Very few will have an opportunity to find a place to grow a garden big enough to pay the rent and expenses.

    July 1, 2014 at 7:10 am |
  2. Jane Carter

    As a garden enthusiast, I am always on the lookout for ways to create that special atmosphere one experiences in the gardens of Provence and Tuscany. Recently I found a wonderful resource in West Palm Beach, Florida: Authentic Provence ( Walk into this oasis of calm, and you will see what I think is the finest collection of European garden antiques available in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, and on and on. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. The staff is very adept at finding that special item, and in arranging shipping to anywhere in the USA. Definitely worth a visit, AND there is a great coffee shop across the street!

    June 17, 2014 at 9:12 am |
  3. amanandhishoe

    Programs like this are beneficial not only to prisons but would be helpful in inner cities as well. It takes so little space to grow produce and there is so much unused land and rooftops in cities, that micro farms could be established throughout cities so that everyone would be within walking distance of fresh produce.

    June 15, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
  4. Suzanne McAllister

    North Carolina inmates have been growing and processing vegetables for the prison system for decades. They operate their own canneries, one of which is located at the infamous Caledonia Prison. In addition, they raise cattle and pigs that are processed. Pork and beef from Caledonia feed NC prisoners,

    June 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm |
  5. beth waitkus

    Just a note on accuracy - Planting Justice is not the brainchild of the Insight Garden Program - they are their own organization, and approached us (the IGP) years ago about helping out at San Quentin. The IGP runs the program at the prison, and PJ supports our work and was instrumental in helping build the veggie garden. We are very grateful for their support! As you mention, they hire our men when they leave prison to do backyard gardens as well. The IGP can be found at - Beth Waitkus, Director of the Insight Garden Program...

    June 7, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
  6. Thinking things through

    Nice. A good sensation of accomplishing something real and meaningful can definitely help some of the prison population not become repeat offenders.

    June 7, 2014 at 7:39 am |
  7. cali girl

    They have the resources. Not only teaches the art of Agriculture but also give back in the form of food. With the drought hitting California many farmers are having water cut by huge amounts or getting no water at all.

    June 6, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
  8. RC

    Pretty cool idea.

    June 6, 2014 at 1:54 pm |
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