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Dona Ana County Extension launches new master gardener program for prisoners

The Dona Ana County Cooperative Extension Service has launched a new master gardener program at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility. This is the first program of its kind in the state and slated to be a seven-week program, which began in February.

Officials from the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility contacted Agriculture Agent Jeff Anderson, who teaches the Master Gardener courses at the Dona Ana County Extension Office, about starting this program.

“The goals from our perspective are to educate prisoners on how to garden, instill in the inmates a sense of responsibility and reparations for their pasts, and hopefully, invoke changes in attitudes towards society and themselves,” he said.

Anderson said the vegetables grown in the program would be donated to the Prison Industries Program for use.

The course will be a three-hour class taught once a week for the span of seven weeks. An exam will be given at the end of each class along with a final exam. Individuals that complete the class will earn a certificate of completion, which will involve further time working in the garden.

While conducting an educational program in a correctional facility poses unique security challenges, Anderson said it has proven to reduce inmate violence and aggression.

The new program is based on the Dona Ana County Master Gardeners program, which is a successful national program as well. The Master Gardener Program was designed to help the county extension office faculty and staff to provide accurate, research-based gardening and horticultural information to local county residents and the nation.

The Extension Master Gardener program started more than 40 years ago in the state of Washington and began in New Mexico in 1981. Fifteen counties and the Navajo Tri-State Extension Office have active Master Gardener programs.

For more information contact the Dona Ana Country Extension office at 575-525-6649 or http://aces.nmsu.edu/county/donaana/mastergardener/.