JAIL GARDEN REAPS RECORD HARVEST
Wednesday, September , 2009 — A record number of Cook County Jail inmates were certified Thursday as "master gardeners," a designation that will help their job prospects as they re-enter the workplace, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said.
Certifications were handed out to 36 participants who completed a summer-long program that saw them planting and tending to a 13,000 square foot garden located on the grounds of the Cook County Jail.
All participating inmates are non-violent offenders who are going through a substance abuse treatment program in the Sheriff's Department of Community Supervision and Intervention (DCSI). They stay at a specialized facility on the jail grounds as they await trial or serve short sentences, mostly for drug-related offenses.
In addition to the 36 "master gardeners," 18 others received certificates of appreciation for their work on the garden this summer.
The program, started 16 years ago, is a joint partnership between the Cook County Sheriff's Department and the University of Illinois Extension Service. It is designed to give the inmates workable skills that can translate into jobs in fields such as agriculture, landscaping or horticulture. The program requires inmates to spend at least 60 hours working in the garden.
"We're all thankful for the continued support we've received from the University of Illinois for this program," Dart said. "Their expertise allows us to introduce a set of work skills to these men and give them another working option once they leave here."
This year's garden produced a bumper crop of vegetables, as more than four tons of food will be donated to area shelters. Charities including Lillydale Baptist Church, Inspiration Cafe, Sisters of Charity, Freedom Temple, St. Blaze and Share the Harvest are all receiving food from the garden.
In addition, for the first time in the program's 15 years, 225 pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, basil, rosemary, mint and lemon thyme from the garden were provided to the world-renowned Charlie Trotter's restaurant in Chicago.
"I can't say enough about what it means to get that kind of support from an establishment like Charlie Trotter's," Dart said. "Throughout the summer, we had regular visits and contact with their executive chef and others who inspired our inmates to keep moving their lives forward and who helped us understand even greener options for operating our garden and soon-to-be-built greenhouse."