TUMWATER – While parts of Washington move into Phase II of the Governor’s Safe Start plan, the state’s food banks are reporting greater needs — all while facing a 70 percent drop in donations, according to the WA Food Fund.

The Washington State Department of Corrections has a plan to help: Corrections Hope Gardens.

The department today announced garden expansion projects are underway at correctional facilities across the state. The garden expansion will give more incarcerated individuals an opportunity to garden while allowing facilities to increase the amount of produce to donate to local food banks and community kitchens. The department started planning in early March, at the beginning of the growing season, when it became clear facility gardens could help communities facing food shortages due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Corrections Hope Gardens give individuals incarcerated in Washington correctional facilities an opportunity to give back to their communities at a time when it’s needed the most,” said Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair. “It also gives them a chance to get outside and learn about gardening, a skill they can use when they return home to restart their lives.”

The WA Food Fund, a relief fund created to support food banks and pantries across Washington, reports 1.6 million people are at risk of not having enough food to eat. That’s double the number of people than before the virus outbreak.

Building on its existing gardens of nearly 19 acres, the department put another 100+ acres into production this spring, allowing facilities to bolster the bounty between their correctional kitchens and local communities.

Working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project, corrections staff and other partners, incarcerated gardeners grew more than 246,700 pounds of food in 2018. They then sent it to facility kitchens and food pantries. Throughout the year, facilities donate food to local community food banks, nonprofits, elementary schools and childcare centers. The massive garden expansion will allow them to produce exponentially more.

Partners include Master Gardeners’ programs, community colleges, universities, local conservation districts, private businesses and other state agencies.

Incarcerated gardeners will cultivate everything from garbanzo beans and salad greens to pumpkins and potatoes. They’ll be growing the produce in outdoor gardens, greenhouses and indoor aquaponics gardens. Some gardeners will even have a chance to grow their own mini-gardens near their living units.

While the Department of Corrections (DOC) has had to curtail or suspend many correctional programs to prevent the spread of COVID-19, gardening is one program facilities have been able to continue. That’s thanks to the knowledgeable staff at each facility. DOC leaders say the projects help ease stress and give those incarcerated in Washington facilities a sense of meaning and purpose as well as fresh produce with their meals.

“The Corrections Hope Gardens won’t just provide hope to families hungry for fresh, locally grown produce,” Sinclair said. “They will give the opportunity to individuals eager to make a difference.”

Editor’s note: The Department of Corrections will be sharing plans from individual facilities on a regular basis. To follow, find the first several facility features:

· Airway Heights Excited to Work With Local Master Garden to Use Every Inch of Garden Space to Grow and Donate Produce to the Community (pdf)
· Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Expands Gardens, Plants 1,000 Vegetable Plants to Assist With Community Needs Due to Pandemic (pdf)
· Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women Joins Hope Garden Effort to Fight Community Hunger During COVID-19 Pandemic (pdf)
· Stafford Creek Corrections Center Expands Gardens to Assist With Community Needs Due to Pandemic (pdf)
· Washington Corrections Center Continues Plans to Support Food Banks, Community Needs During Pandemic (pdf)
· Washington State Penitentiary Expands Gardens by 101 Acres to Assist With Community Needs Due to Pandemic (pdf)