Cook County Jail Garden Harvest Fest 2010

Gardens are great equalizers; they’re also places where people can get a second chance. Today was the annual harvest festival and graduation ceremony at the Cook County Jail’s garden. Really, they need to start calling it an urban farm, a working urban farm.  As I blogged about last year, the jail garden constructed a greenhouse and moved ahead with plans to sell produce grown at the jail garden. Charlie Trotter’s and The Publican are two local restaurants that purchased produce grown at the jail garden this year. The bulk of the edible plants grown at the Cook County jail garden were started by detainees from seeds donated by Renee’s Garden, who sells culinary herb and vegetable seeds.
(use the arrows in the top-right corner of the photo gallery to navigate the photos)

Cook County Jail Garden Inmates and Chef

Chef & inmates search jail garden for ripe vegetables. (use the arrows in the top-right corner of the photo gallery to navigate the photos)
Introductions were made by David S. Devane, Executive Director of D.C.S.I. Opening statements were made by Kenneth H. Treblico, Director. The jail garden received a blessing by Chaplain Harry Roundtree. Ron Wolford and Nancy Kreith of the U of I Extension made statements about the garden’s history and what it was like to work with the detainees. Sheriff Tom Dart spoke directly to the detainees about the chance given to them and the choices they faced once they were released. Tobias Johnson, one of the detainees still in jail, spoke about how the garden allowed him to step outside of himself among bleak surroundings. David Beal, a graduate who was already released returned to pick up his certificate and speak about the program. He took a moment to thank Officer O’ Donnell and Michael Taff for treating him like a “human” and less like an inmate. Let that sink in for a moment. 
After the speeches the detainees, their family members and chefs from Charlie Trotter’s walk through the jail garden and talked about plants and how they’re used in the restaurants. As they talked family members were given bags and harvested some vegetables and herbs. These tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, melons will not grace the menu of a fancy restaurant; they’ll be taken home by family and enjoyed while they wait to be reunited with their loved ones. 
This year the detainees who graduated from the Master Gardener program were outnumbered by members of the press. Was Mike Flannery there because he has an interest in urban farming? The press was there because they wanted to know if Sheriff Tom Dart would toss his hat in the ring and announce that he’ll run for mayor. He didn’t rule it out, but there was no official announcement. This wasn’t really his day, anyway. It was a day for him, his staff who works with the jail garden and members of the University of Illinois Extension to honor the detainees for completing the program.  Although, the talk amongst gardeners at the event seemed to be optimistic that he would. Considering that Sheriff Dart has been such a big supporter of the jail garden and the program that teaches agricultural skills to non-violent offenders, there’s hope that as mayor he’d continue and expand on Mayor Daley’s greening efforts. At least that’s the sentiment I got from talking to a few of the gardeners there. One thing that Sheriff Dart does seem like he’ll expand is the size of the jail garden. This year the sales of the produce generated $3,000 in profits that will be reinvested back into the program so that it doesn’t cost taxpayers money.

Here’s the post from last year with more photos from the jail garden. Also, this video I made during last year’s harvest festival. 

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