(Editor’s note: What was then known as the California Department of Corrections published this story in Correction News in their January 1985 issue, volume 12, number 1i Gardening programs in CDCR have changed drastically over the years. At Folsom State Prison, for example, the food grown by inmates is donated to the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary for the animals.)

By Lt. D Shaw, Camp Administrator
Ishi, Conservation Camp #18

The Ishi Garden Center, located at Camp #18 near Paynes Creek, situated within a rustic wilderness and game refuge area bordering beautiful tree-trimmed Plum Creek, is an inmate-operated, CDC supervised garden project, producing fine quality and tastefully selected fruit and vegetable crops.

Within its boundaries are found a rich array and an ideal collection of the most alluring, prestigious and delicious vegetables imaginable. Found here are many exciting varieties of crisp, colorful leaf lettuces, sweet golden corn, melons, hot peppers, potatoes and tomatoes.

During the plant growing and development period, considerable initiative has been demonstrated by members of the camp population. Inmates not assigned to the garden project often come forward and volunteer their time to assist. Activities such as rock hauling, tree trimming, garden path construction, greenhouse framing, painting and numerous other aspects of gardening have been performed in good spirit. The extra help resulted in reaching many of our beautification goals well ahead of schedule.

We’ve noted birds and other critters are pleased with the Ishi Garden vegetables too. At first sign of cooler weather, our neighborly deer have been sighted along our fence line staring at the plants and veggies with definite envy and possible larcenous intentions on their minds. After dark, our dedicated and very concerned head gardener, armed with a flashlight and determination, communicates with the potential thieves using a combination of Morse Code and a choice of certain affectionate phrases.

Through various means, with local community help and voluntarily support provided by CDC staff at all levels, one has only to visit the garden center and experience a rare and special opportunity to see the beautiful area, rich in greens and feel its peaceful pristine park-like ambiance to understand what can be accomplished when vision and enthusiasm is mixed with an equal amount of determination.

The original small, simple one-eighth acre site employing one gardener, harvesting 2,000 pounds of produce, has grown into a fully established one-acre layout under cultivation, employing two gardeners working full time, who will harvest and market over 5,000 pounds this season. Well over 2,000 pounds of vegetables have been distributed this year to most CDC facilities within the Northern Camp system. A medium size solar powered greenhouse has been developed to further complement the project and when fully operational, will provide vegetables all winter long.

Future concepts are planned to extend garden services into an even more versatile and functional operation:

  • Acquisition of a mechanical grinder to produce rich, loamy compost materials for soil-less plant mixes by recycling kitchen wet garbage, leaves, grass, corn stalks and other organic material.
  • A natural air flow food drying processor (without chemicals) using solar techniques.
  • A “smoker” to preserve, smoke and dry poultry and beef as well as venison and salmon frequently provided by the Department of Fish and Game.
  • An energetic juicing, pickling and vegetable storage program.

Natural assets abound in this program designed for self-sufficiency and for the enhancement of inmate training skills and activities.