The New Garden Society

Locations: Boston, Massachusetts           

History:

The New Garden Society 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 elitists 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. The New Garden Society 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 is brought into The New Garden Society’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. The New Garden Society 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 The New Garden Society 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 give lectures. They were interview by the magazine Edible Boston. They hope to have a big funding press release in the summer of 2017. They have also 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.

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Funding:

The New Gardens 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, the New Gardens Society 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, The New Garden Society 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 New Garden Society 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 The New Garden Society 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, The New Garden Society would like to grow large enough to meet the demand. They are expecting to be in three adult facilities and one youth facility this year.

As the program increases, diversifying the staff in gender, race, and experience sectors is also something The New Garden Society 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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The New Garden Society is keeping an eye out for women prisoners. Therefore, they support Laura Brodrick, a woman who used to teach gardening lessons at South Middlesex Correctional Center’s (MCI) internal program in Framingham, MA, until she took a break for maternity leave. Internal programs are education programs that contract employees. After Charlie Baker became governor, he put a hiring freeze on all state employees.. When Brodrick was ready to work again, her contract was renewed. The garden programs meant for women facilities that were shut down.

Some of The New Garden Society’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 Garden Association on accreditation. When a student graduates from The New Garden Society, they may be able to earn credit for Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLP) that can be used for an organic land care apprenticeship accreditation. It is currently being done at the DYS facilities in the western region of Massachusetts, and this accreditation is something substantial once students are released.

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