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Job skills grow in jail garden program in North Carolina

For many young inmates, the experience is a novel approach to understanding how seeds develop into plants and exploring the source of their food, said master gardener Bill Sloan, who has taught the three-week sessions for the past four years.

“Horticulture knowledge, depending on where you grew up, skipped generations,” Sloan said. “It’s a light bulb moment for them to see a seed germinate.”

The lessons are based on the Mecklenburg County Extension Master Gardener curriculum and include the basics of soil health, composting, soil diseases and plant maintenance to turn seeds into fresh fruits and vegetables. Aquaponics and hydroponics are also part of the curriculum.

For Kern, who also worked in the kitchen and laundry, attending the horticulture class and other pre-release programs and earning certificates of completion provided a sense of accomplishment. The time spent in the greenhouse was a bonus.

“Even though it’s just a piece of paper, those certificates mean something. … I feel like I’m not wasting time, like I’m getting things accomplished, (and) it makes you feel better to learn something,” he said. “For those few select hours working in the greenhouse, I felt like I wasn’t incarcerated.”

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