Tuesday, May 11, 2010 • Prison greenhouse helps community, provides food for institution

Publisher’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 11, 2010, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Greenhouses are great resources for starting flowers and vegetables that won’t survive outside in the cold winter months. The California Correctional Center’s greenhouse is used for the same purpose, but has other benefits, too.

According to CCC Supervising Groundskeeper Sally Dilts, the benefits of the prison’s greenhouse are three-fold. She said it is providing a community service as flowers are being grown for the Lassen County Fair; a new garden has been planted which will help save the state money on food and the projects teaches the inmates job skills.

Lead groundskeeper Julie Boitano, groundskeeper Zach McNutt and about 20 inmates help maintain the greenhouse that contains numerous flowers and vegetables.

In one aisle of the greenhouse there are approximately 125 flats of flowers including zinnias, hollyhocks, alyssums, asters, petunias, lobelias, portulacas, gazanias, foxgloves and impatiens for the Lassen County Fair.

Dilts said some of the flowers will be used in the fair’s new planter being constructed in front of the livestock pavilion and the other plants will be used throughout fairgrounds.

Although CCC is taking care of the flowers, Dilts said the fair provided the seeds.

The groundskeeping crew also grows flowers including marigolds, petunias, asters, coneflowers and perennials to help beautify the CCC grounds.

Dilts said the groundskeeping crew tries to use as many perennials as it can because the flowers come back every year. Annuals, such as the marigolds, die during the winter months and have to be replanted.

For the garden, Boitano said she has about 100 flats of tomatoes, 50 flats of jalapeños, in addition to tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, corn, cantaloupe and broccoli.

According to Dilts, the groundskeeping crew has been maintaining the greenhouse on a consistent basis for about two years.

It will take several years for the garden to be completely established, but when its finished Dilts said it will be about eight acres. There is also an existing apple orchard  on the CCC grounds.

Last year, Boitano said 28,000 pounds of apples were sent to the 18 northern California fire inmate crews.

Dilts said starting the garden was a brainstorming idea as way to make use of the ground that was sitting idle and provide inmates with a work program and given them initiative.

The inmates plant the flower and vegetable seeds. According to Boitano, the men really respond to the work and take a lot of pride in planting the seeds.

“They’re so excited to see (the plants) popping up,” she said.

One inmate even harvested seeds out of a pinecone and has started some blue spruce trees. They will also harvest and dry the seeds from the perennials for planting.

The crew also oversees the care including spraying, fertilizing and watering the plants.

By working in the green house, inmates are educated in pruning, underground irrigation, lawn care, planting, and landscaping, said Boitano and Dilts.

“Rather than just being a work crew, these guys are learning something,” Boitano said.

When the inmates leave prison, Dilts said the men will have the skills to work for landscaping companies, be an independent landscaper or work in the home and garden sections of a store.

Some of the inmates who help tend the plants and grounds may also go to the fire camps. Dilts  said the inmates have been taught the skills to run the gardens that are at all 18 camps.

For the past two years, Dilts said the groundskeeping crew has been consistently running the greenhouse.

The greenhouse also benefits the community in several other ways. Compost is made from leaves from the city of Susanville’s leaf collection event. Dilts said it saves the city from having to dump the leaves elsewhere.

Leaves are then ground with tree and shrub clippings and mixed with horse manure from the local BLM corrals.

Dilts said she tries to keep business with local vendors.