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PASA Conference: Catherine Sneed and The Garden Project

  • Subject: [cg] PASA Conference: Catherine Sneed and The Garden Project
  • From: Alliums <garlicgrower@earthlink.net>
  • Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2002 13:15:20 -0500

Hi, Folks!

Here is my article about Catherine Sneed -- Enjoy!  I retain copywrite -- 
if you'd like print it, send me a copy where it appears.  Gosh, I'm getting 
famous -- still not rich, though! ;-D


Catherine Sneed and The Garden Project
Keynote Address, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture 
February 9, 2002; State College, PA

by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

Standing in a welfare line with two children in San Francisco, Catherine 
Sneed wondered how someone like herself could make the world a better 
place.  Over two decades, Sneed appears to have found her answer through 
the process of reconnection; first, by creating the Garden Project to help 
released prisoners re-connect to themselves and their communities by 
growing food for those who have none and then, by harnessing the accolades 
The Garden Project has received into an arena where she connects the 
"outside" to those who languish in and out of our nation's prison system.

"We are all connected," says Sneed.  "What happens to people in jail 
affects us  we're paying for them to be there." Only 8% of the population 
of San Francisco is African-American, yet this group makes up 85% of its 
prison population.  Most of these prisoners are poor, very angry, and/or 
very sad people that have sold or used drugs to dull their pain and have 
nothing more to lose.  Sneed admits some of them scare her, but as "they 
are all going to be released sometime," it behooves us all to help them 
deal with their addictions and give them job skills so that they can become 
productive members of society, rather than "lifers on the installment plan."

While The Garden Project only hires the recently released, Sneed begins her 
process of reconnection by regularly visiting San Francisco's jails to 
teach inmates that contrary to what many of them heard in school, "they are 
very smart and they can learn."  Once they are released, she tells them, 
The Garden Project can give them "a different place to put what you know" 
rather than returning to the street to sell drugs and possibly die.

The Garden Project formally hires inmates when they are released at 
$11/hour to grow produce, then distribute it for free at senior and family 
centers, to grow and plant street trees around San Francisco and/or to 
"give back" by cleaning up the backyards of senior citizens that they may 
have preyed on to fuel their drug habits.  Everyone must report to their 
counselor and/or parole officer and parents must attend parenting classes 
after work or Sneed will not release their paycheck.

According to The Garden Project's website http://www.gardenproject.org/, 
since it began in 1992, more than 3,500 former offenders have gone through 
the program. Most importantly, most do not return to jail. In 1996, San 
Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey and the University of San Francisco 
conducted a study which found that 75% of Garden Project participants did 
not return to jail

"By growing food where there was no food," says Sneed, Garden Project 
participants "change their perception of themselves."  They are able to say 
"I'm with something," which Sneed believes "dissipates the addiction and 
anger so that they can change" still further.  "By showing how to work with 
other people, we teach connection  participants see that what happens to 
other people has an effect on what happens to themselves. "  Most 
importantly for their self-image, Sneed says, "by cleaning up the backyards 
of poor people they stole from, [participants] learn that although they 
hurt these people, they can give back."

Distributing The Garden Project's food not only allows former inmates to 
give back to their neighborhoods, but may help prevent that neighborhood's 
children from becoming future inmates.  Sneed has long suspected that 
malnutrition in poor San Francisco neighborhoods has not only stunted 
children's growth, but made them more likely to use drugs and engage in 
criminal behavior.  Her friends on the San Francisco police force dismissed 
her theory until one of the police captains began looking into the 
refrigerator after every arrest in a poor neighborhood.  He's been shocked 
to find that almost all the refrigerators are bare.

Sneed's proudest moments of connection and reconnection are probably the 
free food distribution days,  The Garden Project participants grow the 
food,  local police transport food and participants in their vehicles to 
the participants' neighborhoods, where together, they set up a free 
farmer's markets where residents (usually children) can pick out produce to 
take home to their families.  For the children, it's the first time many of 
them have seen fresh food such as grapes; for the participants, it's a way 
to give back to their neighborhood; for the police, it's often the first 
positive interaction they've had with the neighborhood and for neighborhood 
residents, it's their first positive interaction with the participants and 
the police.

Sneed's saddest moments are when she has to turn released inmates 
away  thousands every day  because she does not have the funds to hire 
them.  "They go to the street, then back to jail or they die," Sneed 
says.   "We need more programs like The Garden Project in our cities." Even 
at 6 million dollars, The Garden Project is cheaper than jail.  To connect 
with a national audience and provide details about her program's 
success,  Sneed has set up a website at http://www.gardenproject.org "Let 
your legislators know that The Garden Project is a model for healthy 
communities." Sneed urged in closing.  "We are all connected."

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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