Inside Iowa State
Feb. 6, 1998
Inmates aspire to be Master Gardeners
by Steve Jones
A dozen inmates at an Iowa correctional facility are learning about horticulture side-by-side with area citizens in a new "Master Gardener Behind Bars" program sponsored by ISU Extension.
The program unites inmates from the North Central Correctional Facility (NCCF), Rockwell City, and 14 area residents in a 40-hour training program. It is thought to be the only formal Master Gardener program in the country available to inmates.
"The first session went very well," said Eldon Everhart, commercial horticulture specialist for ISU Extension who presented the initial class Jan. 20 on house plants. He said inmates in the program were attentive and asked many questions during the two-and-a-half-hour session.
Everhart developed the program in cooperation with the Calhoun County Extension Service and NCCF staff.
The NCCF is a state-operated, medium-security prison with about 400 inmates.
Iowa's Master Gardener program is a volunteer organization coordinated by extension since 1977. Master Gardener programs exist in 45 states and Canada.
What really sets a Master Gardener apart from other home gardeners is his or her training in horticulture, said Mary Clancy, Calhoun County Extension education director, Rockwell City.
Participants receive 40 hours of hands-on training taught by extension staff and specialists. Lawn care, perennial and annual flowers, vegetables, soils, ornamentals and plant diseases are among the topics covered. All participants, including inmates, are required to pay the program's $75 fee.
Following the training, which ends March 5, participants must volunteer 40 hours in horticulture-related activities to become certified Master Gardeners. Additional training and volunteer work are required to maintain the certification.
The program's 26 participants meet as one group Tuesday afternoons at the correctional facility's visitor center. Thursday evening sessions are viewed on television via the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). Inmates participate in the live, two-way video program from the correctional facility. Other class members participate from the ICN room at Rockwell City-Lytton High School.
A field trip to ISU's Reiman Gardens is scheduled for participants who can attend.
Horticulture is not new to the NCCF. The facility has an apple orchard and vegetable and flower gardens. Inmates work to produce thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables annually.
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