Horticulture program grows success at local prison

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Several years ago, Robeson Community College partnered with the Lumberton Correctional Institute to develop a horticulture program for inmates. The idea was sparked by the generous donation of a greenhouse by the Caledonia Correctional Institution in Halifax. Caledonia has about 5,500 acres of farmland under cultivation, which is maintained by their inmates. They wanted to assist Lumberton Correctional Facility in establishing a similar effort.
The horticulture class meets five consecutive days, six hours per day, and runs for about 11 weeks. Jeff McPherson, horticulture instructor, actually holds classes inside the greenhouse.
“We usually average around 25 students per class,” McPherson said.
The course is a study of greenhouse production and landscape maintenance of vegetables and plant propagation. Students are taught through lectures, demonstrations, videos and hands-on practice. They are required to successfully complete 330 hours in the program. In turn, they earn credit which is equal to a five-day sentence reduction of their time being served. Classes are only offered to in-house inmates.
Paul Taylor, assistant superintendent for Programs, said McPherson was the force behind the “Garden Program.” McPherson started with an empty greenhouse and taught the students how to masterfully develop a colorful array of produce and plants. The front portion of the greenhouse is used for the production of crops, and the back is utilized for a work/study area. Students work on projects such as “My Acre,” mapping out their visualized garden on a grid sheet. Their blueprint displays the precise location of specific plants and vegetables, keeping in mind the sensitivity of certain crops and their potential for growth in particular climates.
“Basically their sketch is what they would like to see on their acre of land,” McPherson said.
Tomatoes and cucumbers are grown year round. The greenhouse also consists of seasonal foliage plants, banana trees, a pommello tree, a pineapple plant and a tropical fruit garden. Growing on the outside are vegetables such as carrots, turnips, broccoli, cabbage and okra, just to name a few. The students have installed a three-tier waterfall pond and an irrigation system to maintain the health and stability of the produce.
As a result of all the hard work that goes into the program, the fruit and vegetable produce are tastefully prepared by the prison kitchen staff and fed to inmates. Additionally, the variety of flowers and plants outline the entrance landscape of the Robeson Community College main entrance and that of the prison.
“Most of these students have never seen or participated in any type of farming activity, and it gives them pleasure to see their labor being put to use,” Taylor said.
The horticulture class is founded on the principles and practices of responsible stewardship of land, which in turn infiltrates into practical life skills such as discipline and being a caretaker.
“My goal is to motivate the students and prepare them for entrance back into society,” McPherson said.
Instilling the idea in the students that horticulture can not only expose them to the planning, creation and maintenance of environmentally sustainable landscapes but also improve them as individuals has proven successful in keeping the program afloat.
For more information on the Horticulture Program, contact Angela Locklear, coordinator of Human Resources Development, at (910) 272-3613.

– Ericka A. Jones is director, RCC Foundation/Public Information Office for Robeson Community College.

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