Katie Smith reporting from Scott County,
During my first meeting with Gaither Lloyd, a master gardener, fellow GA participant, and longtime Scott County resident, he gave me a lesson about when women should and should not plant a garden. According to Lloyd, there are certain times of the month a women should not try to plant tomatoes. “They will die,” he said, as though quoting biblical truth. “It’s a fact.” Trying to laugh off the crimson rising to my cheeks, I nonchalantly changed the subject back to Lloyd and his two inmates. We were gathered under the hot sun at Scott County Justice Center in Tennessee to tour the jail’s community garden.
Several years ago Lloyd was approached by his son-in-law, then Scott County Sheriff Mike Cross. Cross envisioned a community garden adjacent to the jail where inmates could help plant, maintain and harvest produce from a 1 ½ acre garden, distributing locally to people in need, as well as providing fresh alternatives for the residents. Lloyd agreed to share his knowledge, and Scott County Grow Appalachia provided all of the materials. The privately owned 1 ½ acre garden plot is graciously provided by the owner without charge to facilitate the program.
A variety of male and female inmates provide the gardening labor throughout the season. According to Lloyd, one year the women planted about 200 tomato plants in one day, working through a rainstorm. Over the next few days, about half of the tomato plants died, and Lloyd gave the female inmates the same stern lesson he gave me.
As the program developed, two male inmates stood out to Lloyd for their knowledge and natural talent in the garden, so he worked diligently to gain permission for the two men to have daily access to manage and care for the garden. “It took a month to get them permission to be out here,” said Lloyd, “that and a lot of help from above.” The two men, Homer and Leonard, were dressed in jeans, t-shirts and ball caps and wore a pleasant, respectful demeanor. They both learned to garden from their mamas. These non-violent offenders are considered trustees, and have been allowed to spend most of their days outside working in the unsecured garden for the last four or five years.
The garden is so well kept, it is difficult to spy a weed, a bug-eaten leaf, or any disease. By mid-June they had already harvested large heads of broccoli and lettuce, and the beans are starting to bloom. During high harvest season, food from the garden is distributed to the Scott County Senior Center, the Scott County Homeless Shelter, the jail residents, and according to Lloyd, to “anyone in need who stops by and asks.” The garden produces large yields through October. In the past, Homer says the garden has given them a lot of corn, potatoes and tomatoes. “We were hauling out about two wheelbarrows full of tomatoes every day last year,” said Leonard.
The late Sheriff Cross’ vision has come to fruition and has far reaching effects on the community and the jail residents. As Homer gave me a tour of the garden, he seemed modestly proud of his work, and extremely grateful. “I’m out here in the sun for 6-8 hours a day,” he said. Leonard added later, “We were really lucky that Gaither picked us.”
I am constantly amazed by the people in Scott County who care so deeply about its residents. This garden is changing lives!