When we were back in Indiana a few months ago visiting my parents, my brother, Bruce, told me about a cool project he had been working on with a group of his Master Gardener friends. He also said that the project had won a state award and might get a national award.

It turns out, the project actually won an international award – first place in the Special Needs Audience category of the 2011 International Search for Excellence Award, sponsored by The National Gardening Association and Extension Master Gardener.

The details can be found in the article, Noble County project wins Excellence award, which includes a picture of the representatives of the group that won the award, including my brother.

The project involved teaching gardening skills to minimum security prisoners. Among other things, some of the vegetables (quite a lot) were donated to a local food pantry. Bruce told me that, as a result, a number of the participants were hoping to get into gardening, landscaping or food-related careers.

As I said, it was a cool project.

Today, Bruce sent me the speech he made when accepting the award at The International Master Gardener Conference in Charleston, West Virginia last week on behalf of the Noble County Master Gardeners. He said that there were about 1,000 people in the room. He said he was nervous, but thought a great project deserved a good speech. Apparently, many people thought it was a great speech.

I did too.

Maybe you will too. Here it is:

This project was a joint effort between Chain O’ Lakes Correctional Facility superintendant Michael Cunegin, Noble County Extension Agent Hanson Young, and the Noble County Purdue Master Gardeners. We gave the inmates a 80 hour intensive training program based on our Master Gardener training with a emphasis on landscape design and installation and greenhouse production to make the guys more employable when they get out.

The guys couldn’t understand why we would take time to come in there and teach them. They would ask us every night and our answers weren’t good enough. Seems nobody had ever taken time to do something like that for these guys. Finally I told them the AA saying that says if it weren’t for the grace of God that would be me in there and if it was, I hoped somebody would do it for me. They understood that.

A ways into the classes a well-liked secretary at the facility was killed in a car wreck on the way to work one snowy morning. The guys asked us to design them a memorial garden they could plant for her. We told them they had the training now, they should do it themselves. We got them the plants that spring and they planted it.

This gave us the idea to put in a vegetable garden so they could get some hands-on training. The produce was going to supplement their meals. We had a landscaping project at the courthouse in town and were using the guys for labor. One day they helped was the day the local food pantry was open. The guys asked what were all the people standing in that line for? When they learned it was needy people waiting for food, they were seriously moved. They went to Mr. Cunegin and told him they wanted to donate their produce to the food bank if that was possible. They ended up giving over 1100 pounds of fresh produce to the food bank that summer.

I went out there two or three times a week to check on the garden and one day I asked them, why do you do this? You could be sitting under that shade tree smoking cigarettes with them other guys, making fun of you sweating in the sun and working so hard. They told me it was weird, but it makes you feel good. They had never experienced that feel good thing before. So the best thing to come out of this project was to introduce these guys to that feel good thing. Now I know how to explain why I am a Master Gardener. That feel good thing. Thank You for this award.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (https://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

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