One lettuce head at a time, farming program rooted at women’s prison changes lives

Updated: Jan. 10, 2020 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s harvest day in the hydroponic garden at the Women’s Community Correctional Center ― where the gardeners are inmates.

Lettuce is their bumper crop.

"I really wasn't skilled in this whole hydroponics," Kat Dukes said. "Now I can pretty operate a whole hydroponics system."

The farm program is called Learning to Grow. It’s run in partnership with the Lani-Kailua Outdoor Circle. The relationship started in 1999.

“We have so much fun. and the women enjoy it. Lots of them have told us that it has changed their outlook,” the Outdoor Circle’s Ann Latham said.

Hyacinth Poouahi is one of the inmates who works in the garden. She oversees the operation.

"This place has really rehabilitated me in a good and positive way. I've been here for four years and the program works," she said.

The women learn horticulture and the basics of running a small business.

"It's taught me how to grow lettuce. It's taught me how to cultivate the soil," Jennifer Calo said.

The vegetables they grow are also used in the prison's cafeteria. And there's other growth taking place.

"It's really helped me uproot bitterness," Dukes said. "it's really changed my life."

Foodland buys their lettuce and the proceeds keep the program going.

“So it pays for all our seeds and all of our supplies that we need. And it’s able to have excess money to support the women educationally,” said Terry Beuret, of the Outdoor Circle.

Inmates must meet certain standards before they can join Learning to Grow. The knowledge and skills gained help them when they’re released.

"I'm going to get a green job when I get out," Poouahi said.

Some graduates of the program who completed their prison sentences now work for plant nurseries and farms. More women will follow in their footsteps.

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