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Thurston County Food Bank – Seeds of Change: Juvenile Court Garden Project

Juvenile Detention Center

Juvenile Detention Center

Lettuce beds at the TCJDC vegetable garden.

Lettuce beds at the TCJDC vegetable garden.

Unloading produce at the Thurston County Food Bank.

Unloading produce at the Thurston County Food Bank.

Koi fish pond at the TCJDC vegetable garden.

Koi fish pond at the TCJDC vegetable garden.

A remarkable program is growing at the Thurston County Juvenile Detention Center. Shane Pier, a detention officer, rallied support to install a vegetable garden at the facility.  Businesses in the community responded generously, donating necessary equipment and supplies. As a result, incarcerated youth have spent the summer getting their hands in the dirt growing healthy food. The kids, both in-custody and out-of-custody, have logged over a 1000 hours readying the ground, building beds, planting starts, tending and harvesting.  This program is one of choice, with the majority of the youth working 2½ to 4½ hours, three to four days a week. The variety of produce planted is incredible – kale, cabbage, tomatillos, corn, sweet peppers, peas, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, onions, herbs, pumpkins, cauliflower and carrots – all for the Food Bank. By the beginning of September, 200 pounds of fresh produce was harvested, delivered and distributed to clients. There is more to come.tcfb-2016

Gardening has many advantages for youth in a detention facility. Growing fruits and vegetables gives them an opportunity to be productive, which in turn increases self-esteem and pride. Gardening can also help relieve stress and provides an opportunity to learn about agriculture. Shane remarked, “It’s amazing. Eighty to 90% of the youth who have satisfied court hours want to continue in the garden. They ask how can they come back to help.” The program has limited ability to have the youth return.  Officer Pier has become the “Pied Piper” of the Thurston County Detention Center.  He credits all his passion and knowledge to his grandmother, Irene Pier.

The facility currently has 17 planted beds and a koi pond which is used for aquaponics. Next year, they plan to build a greenhouse, add 17 more beds and a system by which recycled pond water can be used on the garden beds.  Pier said that they currently have one of the largest correctional programs of its kind. With the planned additions it will be the largest.

Thurston County Food Bank is a CFD approved charity; CFD Charity Code#  0316378

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