Reducing drug use with organic gardening programs

Free of pesticides and other chemicals, we all know that organic foods are better for our health. But who knew it could also help cut the rates of drug and alcohol abuse and relapse? That’s exactly what one program in the United Kingdom did after initiating an organic gardening program at one of its high-security prisons after drug test failure rates of inmates rose to 30 percent.

Today that rate is at practically zero. And correctional systems around the world are using the program’s success to model their own programs after. Including a number of facilities in the United States.

A study looked at horticultural projects in prisons and other facilities. That study found that:

“These programs create a sense of ownership, help the participants develop life skills, and provide educational, occupational, and rehabilitative benefits.”

Garden Organic, a charity that “promotes organic growing practices,” partnered with the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Team (DART) and HMP Rye Hill as the first gardening program of its kind used as an intervention tool. The government initiated the program after funding a new mandate in 2010 for its drug policy that would attempt to help substance abuse victims in prison.

Inmates at HMP Rye Hill tend to agree, according to one report. A number of letters from inmates who are also recovering addicts say that being out in the gardens saved them from their addictions. One almost 40-year-old crack addict wrote:

“At Rye Hill, I decided to get clean and the only way I could do that was out in the gardens. Believe me, if a full-blown addict like me can do it, so can you! Just jump on a shovel or roll up your sleeves and dig in! Believe! Achieve!”

The most impressive thing about the program is that almost all inmates participating in it have passed the mandatory drug tests since entering it. In addition to the inmates succeeding in their rehabilitation quests, those in the organic gardening programs get to eat the foods they grow, which leads to better nutrition, which itself has shown to lead to better behavior overall.

And now at least 20 other programs like it operate worldwide.

In the United States at least 10 programs operate across the country. Harvest Now, for example, operates out of Connecticut and serves 85 prisons nationwide. Not only do inmates participate in the program, but Harvest Now also donates the harvested foods to food banks. The Montana Women’s Prison offers a Master Gardener Certification to inmates who work in the food sustainability program in its on-campus greenhouse.

An innovative organic gardening program includes that at the Northeastern Correctional Center in West Concord Massachusetts. According to the report:

“As part of its culinary training program, the Correctional Center teaches inmates how to professionally prepare food and obtain restaurant skills that better their chances of finding a ‘decent paying job’ when released.”

The center actually opens and serves the public at a reduced price. The only program of its kind, it not only helps the inmates but the economy and residents who cannot afford traditional meal prices.

More forms of organic gardening programs operate nationwide, and each is unique. All center on organic foods and gardening, and better nutrition. Not to mention, they seek to help rehabilitate inmates in a variety of ways that will better their lives overall – with recovery from drug and alcohol abuse being at the top of the list. The data shows these programs work, so hopefully, in the future, more prisons will implement these programs.


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Green and Growing Team

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