The New Garden Society

Locations: Boston, Massachusetts           

History:

The New Garden Society (TNGS) started in 2013 in direct response to the Department of Correction’s (DOC) request to bring in volunteers to do prison garden programs. The New Garden Society was named after the traditional garden societies/clubs that exist even to this day, where wealthy people found gardening as a pleasure and a luxury. What makes up The New Garden Society is a counterculture — a contemporary, social movement that opens the vocation and therapy of gardening to people in prison. TNGS takes place in two facilities. After the first season of running the program, they decided to become a non-profit.

Purpose:

Their vision is to expand access to this program in prisons throughout Massachusetts. They are looking for participants who are interested in the science and art of plants and want to take part in this program.  The curriculum is very much focused on vocational training, not only in developing skills to work in the green industry, but also developing “soft” job skills (i.e. being on time, working well in a team, finishing a project).

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Program Admission/ Details:

What sets The New Garden Society apart from other prison garden programs is that they are bringing in professionals from the green industry to teach, whereas other programs have volunteers who are garden enthusiasts, but who may not have had careers in the green industry.

The enrollment process is subjective. In the Department of Youth Services (DYS), which includes adolescents ages 15 to 21, every student that is in the care of the DYS was brought into TNGS’s class as supplementary support for their Science, Technology, Education, Math (STEM) classes. At the adult facilities, ages 21 and up, the program is offered but not required. Adult prisoners inquire to their treatment team or recreational staff to be part of the program. The participants are then admitted based on who the facility chooses. TNGS meets the participant afterwards.

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The relationship between students and teachers is respectful. Most of the staff and volunteers are women, and TNGS currently only admits male participants. If conversation begins to head towards something inappropriate, volunteers are trained to redirect the topic. But so far, students have never spoken rudely towards their teachers. Rather, teachers found them to be engaging, involved and hardworking in their studies.

Outcomes:

At the end of the program, students are given a certificate of completion that gives the number hours spent and what topics that have worked on. They are also told the different jobs available in the green industry in case they are interested in job applications, requirements.

The New Garden Society reached out to places like the Flatbread Company in Somerville to hold fundraisers. They have given lectures at garden clubs, the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s conferences, and universities. They were also interviewed by the magazine Edible Boston. They hope to have a big funding press release in the summer of 2017. They have trained and collaborated with Sister Unchained, a transformative summer program for young women whose family members have been incarcerated. The program teaches about the importance of sisterhood and the impact and history of the prison complex. TNGS are also founders of the Northeast Prison Garden Collaborative, which joins prison garden practitioners from across the region to share best practices and expand our networks.

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Funding:

The New Garden Society has both federal and state tax exempt status which allows them to take donations and give people a tax credit for those donations. By choosing to be a non-profit, TNGS is allowed to have a governing board that has fiduciary responsibility. They are also permitted to apply for grants to private foundations who support their program. Sometimes corporate grants are made from corporations like Home Depot. Most of the people teaching the programs and running the organization are doing so on a voluntary basis. However, TNGS is now able to reimburse volunteers for their travel expenses to and from the facilities so that it does not cost them anything except for their time and knowledge.

The TNGS also gives lectures to garden clubs and holds yard sales to raise money. They believe that such actions will help them connect with a broader audience.

Their annual budget is $250k.

Cons:

There is not enough support from the DOC to expand the program. Although they requested a prison garden program, they have not considered increasing funding.  

Because TNGS used to work under the DOC, they have signed a contract that prevents further contact with students post release. However, recently, the DOC is thinking of creating a mentorship program that may change that rule.

What could be improved:

As of now, The New Garden Society has a waiting list. There are more people and facilities who want to be part of the program than they can support. Therefore, in the future, TNGS would like to grow large enough to meet the demand. They expected to be in three adult facilities and one youth facility in the year of 2017.

As the program increases, diversifying the staff in gender, race, and experience sectors is also something TNGS finds important. In addition, they would also like to diversify the types of students they teach. Historically, they have taken care of students from medium security prisons, and would like to work with more pre-release prisons.

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Some of TNGS’s board members are part of an evaluating program in order to create quantifiable data to assess not only the individual participants, but also the program.

They are also collaborating on a grant with National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop visual aids that will help change their curriculum. The visual aids would be able to be used in any prison, thereby expanding the impact of the program.

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In addition, they are also working with the Northeast Organic Farming Association on accreditation. When students graduate from TNGS, they are be able to earn credit for Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLP) that can be used for an organic land care apprenticeship accreditation. It was done at the DYS facilities in the western region of Massachusetts, and this accreditation was something substantial once students were released.

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