Seasons of Grace: Planting Hope & Feeding the Community

Growing Hearts & Hope

There’s something growing at the Swannanoa Correctional Facility for Women. Set against the backdrop of a gorgeous range of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a small plot of freshly tilled dirt is receiving some special attention. The planting season has started, and for the second year, inmates at the facility will be growing fresh fruit and vegetables—this season will features crops of tomatoes, sweet peppers, corn, okra, melons, greens, turnips, and more.  This garden will once again provide fresh produce that the women at the correctional facility would otherwise not have access to. But even more, these inmates donate their excess crops to MANNA, so that we can share their bounty with individuals and families that don’t have enough food to provide for their daily needs.

“It’s a chance for the women to give back to the community,” says Sally Reeske, who has been teaching horticulture to inmates at the minimum-security facility for the last three years. “It’s something that they have said is very important to them.”

The benefits for the inmates are tangible. One woman described how energized she felt the day after eating the first meal of fresh produce that came from the garden. With eight inmates currently managing the garden, they keep busy during the planting season. Last year, they grew enough watermelons to feed all 300+ inmates, three times!

When asked what has been one of the most powerful effects of the garden, Reeske says “proving you can grow a lot of food in a small space, with only a few people, has had a big impact.”

“There are a lot of quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits to the garden,” she explains.

“I’ve been living in a room for so long,” says one inmate who works in the Seasons of Grace garden. “I need the exercise, the sunshine, and the fresh air.”

Planting A Row for MANNA

This year, the gardeners are taking their efforts even further, planting several rows of greens that will be donated to MANNA throughout the harvest season.

“Fresh greens are very important in our food supply at MANNA,” says Jen Waite, MANNA’s director of food sourcing. “It’s tough to find fresh greens that will keep long enough for us to distribute to clients through our partner agencies, because usually the donated produce is on its last life cycle by the time it reaches us. These greens will be fresh from the farm, and that is so important for the people who we serve, particularly when fresh produce is one of the most expensive items at the grocery store.”

Keeping the Garden Growing:
Volunteer and Supplies Needed

One of the limitations to the women being able to work consistently in the garden is limited volunteers to help oversee the operations. Right now, inmates can only attend to the garden when they are escorted by approved personnel, and that is about two times a week—certainly not enough for caring for multiple crops during the growing season.

You can help: Volunteers are needed as escorts so the growers can attend the garden. Escorting is simple, and requires no physical labor. You can also donate to the gardeners’ efforts. Here is a list of current needs:

Compost Tea Brewer
Easy-up tent for shade
Storage shed
Folding chairs
Espoma Tomato Tone fertilizer
Neptunes Harvest Fish Emulsion
Serenade Garden Disease Control
Plastic plates, cups and cutlery
Finished compost
Worm castings
Manure
Irrigation system and expert advice for irrigation system

If you are interested in being a volunteer, or donating supplies and tools to support the Seasons of Grace garden, please contact MANNA’s Food Drive Coordinator, Justine Redden: jredden@mannafoodbank.org.