Seeds of Change that Give Back - Garden at Juvenile Detention Facility
Need a little inspiration and hope for change? The Youth Development Program (YDP) at Thurston County’s Juvenile Justice Center provides hope, education and beautiful, fresh food in our community.
Shane Pier, staff at Juvenile Justice proposed a garden program six years ago. When Shane approached his detention manager, Ted Bryan, with the idea, Ted said, “Sure! There’s no money in the budget for a garden but if you can figure out how to pay for it, go for it.” Shane utilized his years of serving the community to gather partnerships and community support to fund his vision. Businesses donated supplies and equipment and partnerships between other youth gardening programs like Tumwater FRESH and Olympia’s Freedom Farmers started to blossom.
Other staff rallied around Shane’s idea and an entire team works together to pull off the coordination, including transportation for youth that work in the garden while on probation and as fulfillment of community service hours. Shane praises the folks he works with, stating, “This program wouldn’t be as successful without the hard work and dedication of Tony Cleaves, Jessica Anderson and Carolyn Hoyt. Tony grew up on rough streets and reaches kids that a country-kid, from Tenino, can’t. Jessica brings in other partner organizations and is the backbone of this program. Carolyn is hard working, dedicated and makes sure that the garden thrives even when the rest of us get occupied with other things. Without the weekend staff, we wouldn’t have weekends off!”
Based on his decades of working with youth, including raising ten kids, Shane knew that getting kids outside with their hands in the dirt surrounded by the natural world could be very therapeutic. After their initial anger at being detained begins to calm, kids in the garden open to important, real-life talks that are needed to make lasting change. They go from being angry at being forced to work to asking to come into the garden as much as possible and even checking in on its progress years later. Youth in the program learn about their ability and capacity to change, heal and grow and YDP staff are full of wonderful stories about kids that have changed their lives around and continue giving back to the garden, years after they’ve graduated.
Youth in the program learn to use tools, build structures such as compost bins and garden beds while experiencing what it takes to successfully grow food. The program includes leadership opportunities as kids apply to step into the roles of team leader and foreman. Leadership roles further develop life skills like, preparing a resume, interviewing in front of a panel and public speaking at the annual harvest celebration. When not working in the garden, youth in the program work in the Food Bank Warehouse, help with Kiwanis gardens, work on landscaping around public buildings and learn life skills.
The garden itself, located in a secure site behind the correctional facility started out without drainage or water. Four-foot-tall weeds loomed. Brick by brick, youth built several garden beds, experiencing first-hand, the process of creating this little patch of abundance. When asked how he maintains the garden organically, Shane laughs, “I’ve got kid power, I don’t need herbicides!” They’ve had luck planting marigolds to ward off pests, Carolyn taught the crew about using soapy water to control aphids and mites and they plant enough each year that a little pest damage doesn’t hurt - much. Fertilizer is provided by a pond full of fish that was designed and created by Zach Taylor. When kids come into the garden having a hard day, they’re asked to count fish. Spending twenty minutes next to a lovely water feature can release stress and offers the opportunity for youth to learn how relaxing nature can be.
It’s impressive to hear that in the garden’s first year, they donated 500 pounds of fresh food to the local food bank. Shane laughs, “I thought that was impressive too but after starting a friendly competition with Benton/Franklin County in Eastern Washington, we grew 2,069 pounds of fresh food the second year, 4,079 pounds the next year including over 1,400 ears of corn, and by the fourth year we were up to 7,002 pounds of fresh food donated throughout the community, feeding folks who need it.”
The harvest is not only bountiful but also diverse. There’s an orchard with plum trees, apple trees, Asian pears, strawberries, raspberries, peas, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, 800-1000 pounds of melons, tomatillos, hot peppers, tomatoes, and 2 almond trees!
Shane credits his grandmother with teaching him everything he knows about gardening, cooking and sewing. The entire garden staff clearly loves the work and the kids they garden with. It’s clear that the love is mutual as Shane shares that the kids, “Come back to tell us how they’re doing. If they didn’t, we would all be heartbroken!”