Hero Image

UC Master Gardeners pilot gardening program for incarcerated youth

The Issue

Incarcerated adults reap tangible benefits when they learn to garden, reporting feelings of accomplishment and improved self-esteem when they produce food for themselves and others. Gaining life skills and marketable technical experience support healthy behavior post-release, explaining the lower recidivism rates among those who have been involved with prison gardening programs. Research indicates that youth held in detention facilities similarly benefit from mentoring in a productive garden.

What Has ANR Done?

The UC Master Gardener Program in Tulare/Kings Counties coordinated with the Kings County Probation Department to pilot a gardening program. Youth ages 18 years and under from non-maximum security units participated. In September 2017, Juvenile Center and UC Master Gardener staff met to evaluate the site and determine how to best navigate bringing new personnel into the facility on a regular basis. After an initial soil test, a team of volunteer UC Master Gardeners rotated through the facility one to two times per week to prepare the soil and work alongside the youth. The Probation Department provided ongoing support by funding garden supplies and appropriate gardening tools. They also coordinated with UC Master Gardeners to work around volunteers’ schedules, school requirements, and heat constraints of the Central Valley. UC Master Gardeners coached youth on seasonal vegetable planting, weeding, and basic integrated pest management. Surplus produce was delivered to a county food pantry. UC Master Gardeners worked with some of the youth to restore several struggling landscape beds, providing recommendations for appropriate plant species, irrigation and weed management, and preparation of small ornamental container plantings.

The Payoff

Incarcerated youth increase technical skills, self-worth, and belonging through gardening

Detention facility staff reported a clear uptick in interest and pride in the garden by the youth. Via direct mentoring, youth gained marketable gardening skills for post-release. Participants learned proper planting times for individual vegetable crops, the role of beneficial insects in pest control, and how to provide optimal weed control. Youth also celebrated their donation to the local food pantry, seeing their efforts fill a critical community need. “The kids were very aware and proud of the fact that the food went to a pantry in the county,” shared Captain Carla Corbett, Juvenile Center Manager. “They could provide for someone else.” Youth prepared salads and fresh salsa from the fruits of their labor, a process many had never experienced. UC Master Gardeners observed youth taking great pride in sharing their landscaping efforts with visiting family members, connecting their efforts to an improved physical environment.


Sue Gillison, sgillison@ucanr.edu; Maggie Reiter, mkreiter@ucanr.edu