News Service


Mary Clancy, Calhoun County Extension, (712) 297-8611
Eldon Everhart, Extension Horticulturist, (712) 755-3104
Steve Jones, News Service, (515) 294-4778


AMES, Iowa -- A dozen inmates at an Iowa correctional facility are learning about horticulture side-by-side with area citizens in a new "Master Gardener Behind Bars" program sponsored by Iowa State University Extension.

The program unites 12 inmates from the North Central Correctional Facility (NCCF), Rockwell City, and 14 area residents in a 40-hour training program. The effort is thought to be the only formal Master Gardener program in the United States available to inmates.

"The first session went very well," said Eldon Everhart, commercial horticulture specialist for ISU Extension who presented the initial class Jan. 20 on house plants. Everhart said inmates in the program seemed attentive and asked many questions during the two-and-a-half-hour session.

Everhart developed the program in cooperation with the Calhoun County Extension Service and NCCF staff.

The NCCF is a state-operated, medium-security prison with about 400 inmates.

Iowa's Master Gardener program is a volunteer organization coordinated by ISU Extension. Master Gardeners assist with horticulture-related programs and projects sponsored by ISU Extension. To date, more 2,500 Iowans have become Master Gardeners since the program began in 1977. Master Gardener programs exist in 45 states and Canada.

"What really sets a Master Gardener apart from other home gardeners is his or her special training in horticulture," said Mary Clancy, Calhoun County Extension education director, Rockwell City.

The new program is the same as other Master Gardener programs, Clancy added.

Participants receive 40 hours of hands-on training taught by ISU Extension staff and specialists. Lawn care, perennial and annual flowers, vegetables, soils, ornamentals and plant diseases are among the topics covered. All participants, including inmates, are required to pay the program's $75 fee.

Following the training, which ends March 5, participants (including inmates) must volunteer 40 hours of their time in horticulture-related activities to become certified Master Gardeners. Additional training and volunteer work in the future are required to maintain the certification.

The program's 26 participants meet as one group Tuesday afternoons at the correctional facility's visitor center. Their sessions on Thursday evenings are viewed on television screens via the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). Inmates, who have been called "insiders," participate in the live, two-way video program from the correctional facility. Other class members, dubbed "outsiders," participate from the ICN room at Rockwell City-Lytton High School.

While the horticulture training program is new to the NCCF, horticulture is not. The facility has an apple orchard and vegetable and flower gardens at which many inmates work. Thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables are produced annually.

A field trip to ISU's Reiman Gardens is scheduled for participants who can attend. Sessions will be videotaped for those unable to make the trip.


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