SAN DIEGO —
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department culinary and horticulture reentry services programs have been cooking up something new at a handful of their facilities in recent months: hydroponic gardens.
The two programs have worked together for years to not only train inmates returning to their communities after their release from incarceration, but they assisted with job placement and retention, Patricia Ceballos, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s reentry services manager, said in a phone call last week.
Two months ago, reentry officials introduced hydroponic gardens in the form of indoor “towers,” teaching inmates in a classroom environment how to grow vegetables and herbs from seedlings in a way conducive to the latest industry standards.
The hydroponic gardens are a method of growing plants without soil and do not take up a lot of space, Ceballos said. Through the use of the 12 towers at Las Colinas Detention Center students have been able to grow lettuce, arugula, cilantro, spinach, strawberries and green onions.
These items are then taken straight from where they are grown to the culinary students, who use them in a variety of dishes.
“Not only are we offering skills for our folks who are part of our vocational programs, but a part of this is also an individual healing journey,” Ceballos said. “People who are working through some very difficult challenges in life, we build programs and support systems around them that allow for spaces to talk about their feelings, their life experience and how that correlates to growing fruits and vegetables and herbs.”
The horticulture and culinary courses contribute to the reentry programs’ goals of making inmates employable in fields that have some kind of upward mobility, Ceballos said.
In other vocational courses administered by the reentry services program, success stories include students finding a job at a construction company or working as a school counselor, said sheriff’s department officials. The culinary program itself placed former-student Angela Carapia in a restaurant after she left Las Colinas, officials said.
“We want people to have an experience and to feel ready to transition into the community — to be prepared with tools to help them be successful,” Ceballos said.
Students in the programs complete months of classes and work. The culinary program requires 800 hours in the kitchen/dining rooms and students who pass all six mastery tests earn a “Manage First Professional” certificate that is nationally recognized, as well as a barista certificate.