Inmates ensure each day is Earth Day at Pitchess

Inmates taking part in agricultural programs. Courtesy photo, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department.

Every day is Earth Day at the Pitchess Detention Center, as a growing number of inmates get back to the land, as it were — cultivating the open space around the Castaic jail.

Inmates taking part in the nursery and farming programs at the jail get a chance to spend about five hours every day growing fruit and veggies, learning about recycling and composting, and all about farming basics.

Any tomatoes and potatoes — and whatever else they learn to grow on jail land, set back from The Old Road at Biscailuz Drive — is likely to end up on their dinner plate at some point.

“They enjoy it,” Sgt. Jake Gubran said Monday. “They learn to work together on our property. They get to grow it. They get to taste it, so that they can tell what a fresh tomato tastes like.”

The hands-on education is part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Education Based Incarceration Program.

Inmates have the opportunity to sign up for a number of classes, such as farming, nursery work and composting — not just for Earth Day, but year-round.

The nursery program, for example, is a self-service operation during which inmates learn not only the basics, but also advanced and alternative methods of horticulture.

The result is rewarding and tasty, with classroom participants growing vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, roses and other flowers, succulents and “hothouse” plants.

“We have an instructor that teaches composting, for example,” Gubran said. “They (inmates) learn everything, from the type of worms they’re going to use to how the soil is, ultimately, going to enhance farming things.

“They learn about the bugs involved,” he said.

As Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, wrote in a social media posting Monday: “The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department does its part to participate in Earth Day by teaching our incarcerated inmate population about recycling, urban farming, composting, soil health, and aquaponics.

The Education Based Incarceration Program offers inmates the opportunity to learn about agriculture, she said.

Inmates learn some of the most important aspects of agricultural academics and hands-on vocational work experience.

At the completion of the program, inmates receive a certificate.

The piece of paper demonstrates having mastered an understanding of plant maintenance, propagation and plant health. They also learn about the use of pest, pathogen and disease treatments, all under the guidance of a vocational instructor from the Five Keys Charter School.

Teachers from the charter school work with sworn and non-sworn personnel at the jail, and work hand in hand with charter high schools and volunteer groups.

By cultivating plants, inmates cultivate pride in what they do, according to the organizers, become empowered and acquire self-respect.

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