More than 100 Oregon prison inmates in 13 Oregon prisons, are currently enrolled in the 2013 session of Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener class including 12 inmates at Snake River Correctional Institute in Ontario.

The unique program, initiated by Lettuce Grow, a non-profit organization, partners with the OSU Extension Service to offer the master gardener curriculum.

Lettuce Grow, a volunteer organization, helps fill the gap left by budget cuts in prison vocational programs. The organization trains volunteers to garden with inmates, educates inmates in sustainability and organic gardening practices, and encourages correctional facilities to donate a portion of harvests to local food banks.

“This program that is in its earliest stages will allow us to give inmates the opportunity to take care and maintain something other than themselves,” Bill Doman, correctional rehabilitation service manager, said. “Many of these individuals have not had this opportunity in the past, and this will give them valuable skills that they will hopefully use on their re-entry into society.”

Fifty-four inmates have graduated from the program in its first three years. Inmates who complete the master gardener course and pass the final exam earn a Certificate of Home Horticulture.

“The professional home horticultural certificate is a plus for job seekers in the nursery, landscaping and farming industries,” according to Sarah Patterson, director of the Lettuce Grow board. “And many of those 54 graduates, who were released from prison, are stepping up to complete their volunteer service hours, a requirement to qualify for a full OSU Master Gardener designation.”

Lettuce Grow also partners with the OSU Extension and Oregon Food Bank to offer “Seed to Supper,” a more basic horticulture class at the Columbia River Correctional Facility in northeast Portland. Patterson said more than 350 inmates have completed the Seed to Supper class over the past four years. Master gardeners and other volunteers help present the sustainable gardening classes to inmates. Seed to Supper has become is a prerequisite for the Master Gardener class at the Columbia River Correctional Prison. Patterson commented that both the master gardening and the seed to supper classes have waiting lists.

Oregon State University’s ECampus donated the curriculum for use by Lettuce Grow programs.

Lettuce Grow provides inmates with course handbooks and DVDs for the class, Lettuce Grow volunteers to work on-site in the classrooms and prison gardens. In 2012, Oregon’s prison gardens produced over 200,000 pounds of food.

Lettuce Grow works with the national Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) at Evergreen College in Washington State. Patterson recently presented the Lettuce Grow program at the national SPP conference at Evergreen and at a workshop at the national Green Prisons conference in Indianapolis in October 2012.

What you can do

Lettuce Grow is always looking for volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information, visit www.lettucegrow.org.

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