County jail hits paydirt
A demonstration garden and compost project at the county jail that began as a way to reduce trash headed to the landfill also is giving inmates a sense of purpose.
The Full Circle Demonstration Garden opened to the public last fall. It is a collaborative effort between Nevada County Recycles and the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility.
The garden features worm composting, or vermicomposting, which turns 45,000 pounds of food scraps from the jail’s kitchen each year into rich soil that fertilizes an organic vegetable garden used to feed inmates.
The garden also showcases a year-round Circle of Life garden created by horticulturist Kathy Irving and hosts community composting workshops several times a year.
On a warm, sunny Tuesday morning, Larry Henslee tended the worm bins – seven rows of wooden raised beds filled with soil and red worms. Each day, Henslee, an inmate at the jail, feeds the worms 124 pounds of vegetable-based food waste from the jail’s kitchen. Each day, the worms devour the food; their waste, called castings, is a gardener’s gold.
Henslee has served 200 days at the jail. He is the envy of his cell mates because he has the privilege of working outdoors in the earth and sunshine each day.
“It’s nice to be able to give back. For me, I’ve been so self-absorbed for so long,” Henslee said.
It’s gratifying to see the reactions on people’s faces when they pass by the garden that he takes pride in as if it were his own, Henslee said. Since he began working in the garden, he said, he has been treated as if he were human again.
“I’ve had some tough times. I’ve learned a lot from all this,” Henslee said, adding he wants to grow a large garden and become a landscaper when he is released.
“The ability to work outside is very valuable for these folks,” Captain Lee Osborne said. “It gets them outside and in the fresh air. There’s a real sense of accomplishment.”
More gardens possible
That’s just the kind of response Kathy Irving wants people to have to plants. She is the designer behind the Circle of Life Garden, a planting of repetitive patterns, like a mandala with flowers, culinary, therapeutic and food plants. She said she got the idea three years ago when she realized it was her path to help others.
If grants become available, her gardens could soon start popping up in schoolyards in Nevada County.
Saves money, shows others
Composting enriches the garden soil, but it also makes economic sense.
The jail saves $1,600 a year in disposal fees, Osborne said. The garden is nearly self-sustaining, with minor costs for seeds, tools and plastic covers to keep the worms warm in winter months.
Only minimum security inmates can participate in the garden project. They must meet grooming standards and be willing to work. Inmates earn a day off their sentences for every 45 hours worked.
But the garden also is meant as an outreach for others in the community to show people how to compost at home or business.
“This is really to be a model to show people what they can do,” said Tracey Harper, recycling coordinator for Nevada County.
Osborne wants to expand the grounds and looks at other counties for models, such as a jail in Sonoma which has a 40-acre garden.
“We’ve shown that it can work. There’s no reason not to do this,” Osborne said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@ theunion.com or call 477-4231.
To learn more about the demonstration garden at the Nevada County jail, go to:
• http://www.seedoflifegarden .org
• http://www.nevadacounty recycles.com
– Laura Brown
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