"I came out here every day in the morning and in the evening," said Abby (not her real name). "I felt part of something meaningful. It was something meaningful I could do with my son."
Though small in scale, under the care of the women the garden produced about 100 pounds of vegetables. It was one of the best performing gardens of the 30 supported by High Rocks' Grow Appalachia program this year. With a dozen sunflowers towering over the garden, it was also one of the prettiest.
"I told them I wished my garden looked like that," said Tammy Lewis, coordinator of the Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together program.
Some women tried foods from the garden that they had never eaten before such as squash, collard greens, green beans and cucumber.
"I never ate a salad in my life. I'm a salad eater now," said Tonya.
"It's something we take for granted, "said Robertson. "We all grow gardens here, but they didn't know that they could do that for themselves." She said that growing the garden gave the women new confidence in themselves. "They can say they did that on their own. They didn't have to have a man or anyone else to do it for them."
Tonya earned her GED during her time at the Birthing Center. She said she will also take her gardening experience with her when she leaves. "My mom is really excited that I can do this. I have to have a garden when I get home. It saves money. Instead of buying food, I get to pick it from my backyard."
"In one season, this project became something more than anyone imagined. The opportunity for learning exchanges between community members, staff and the women are limitless," said Brynn Kusic, another garden volunteer and Grow Appalachia participant.
She worked in the kitchen with the women to teach them how they could use what they grew. They made pesto from their basil, they steamed collard greens and they sautéed summer squash. Staff shared family recipes. One afternoon she helped the women to make and to can applesauce so they could learn how to preserve the produce that they grow.
Abby is excited to make baby food for her son when she gets home and plants her own garden. She's also excited to grow tomatoes and peppers to make her own salsa. "I was surprised that I enjoyed this so much."
"The garden is about patience and perspective," said Kusic. "It is a place for contemplation and healing for people at a crossroads. I think that is the rehabilitation lesson that is happening there."
In a recent meeting of the board of directors for the prison, Abby read a statement about what being at the GBC meant for her and her son. "Working in the garden showed me for the first time there are fun things to do while being sober. It has given me hope for a healthy life for me and my son."
Erica Marks is Grow Appalachia coordinator and may be emailed at Er...@highrocks.org.