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Horticulture Program Sows Seeds of Success

CoreCivic | 3/28/24 8:59 AM

Gardening and spending time in green spaces has long been known to lift a person's mood, but more research is now revealing the true impact plants have on a person's mental and physical health. This is just one of many reasons horticulture programs bring positive change to those in CoreCivic's care. At CoreCivic's Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, Georgia, horticulture is just one of many vocational programs that helps incarcerated individuals learn new skills and earn an industry-recognized certificate (IRC).

Wheeler's Horticulture program involves everything from learning about plants through bookwork to hands-on education during all four seasons. The classes are split into two: one class on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wheeler's Horticulture Instructor Loretta Dover says splitting classes like this instead of morning versus afternoon is beneficial because students get hands-on experience during every season.

"In the summertime, after 12 o'clock it's so hot you can't think straight. In the wintertime, the classes that were in the morning wouldn't get to go outside," said Dover.

Students learn how to grow flowers and vegetables, manage lawn care, and harvest crops. It takes one year to complete the course, with graduates walking away with an IRC to help them land a job after release.

"They can get a job at nurseries, the type where you and I would buy bushes and flowers, and the type that grows plants for large suppliers and hardware stores. Or they can go into the lawn care industry because we cover that too," said Dover.

On top of creating new job opportunities, spending time in a garden and taking care of plants has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. A report by the Mayo Clinic Health System shows gardening is good for your mental and physical health, as spending time outside reduces heart rate, muscle tension, lowers blood pressure and increases vitamin D levels. On top of this, a gardening routine can provide structure to the day and create a soothing rhythm, easing stress. For this reason and more, Dover believes correctional environments greatly benefit from having an on-site greenhouse.

"I think it's good for the students to have an outlet where they get to go outside. Even on days where it's not comfortable, [when] it's really hot or cold, they enjoy it," said Dover. "Most of them are eager to learn and they're always telling me what they're going to grow when they get out. That makes me feel good."

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Topics: Reducing Recidivism, News