MURFREESBORO - Pride shows in inmate Ivan Porto's expression when he describes the yellow crook-necked squash he's growing at the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office's Garden of Hope.
Porto is one of several inmates assigned to learn gardening skills while incarcerated at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center. He pulls weeds gently around the squash plants now blooming with bright yellow flowers.
Sheriff Robert Arnold instituted the Garden of Hope three years ago based on the quote, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
"If we can teach inmates to grow food, they can better feed themselves and their families and learn more skills," Sheriff Arnold said.
The garden is funded by private donations and by recycling cans, paper and wooden products at the Sheriff's Office and Detention Center. Wal-Mart donated torn bags of mulch that can't be sold.
Deputy Arthal Minter teaches the inmates about preparing the garden, planting seeds and plants and caring for the produce. She partners with Dr. Nate Phillips of MTSU's School of Agribusiness and Agriscience.
Inmates are assigned to specific crops. This is the first year for the inmates to grow carrots in raised boxes built with discarded wooded pallets. Blue lake bush beans are grown in boxes and potatoes are cultivated in black plastic bags.
Other crops include pear, Roma, grape, cherry and Big Boy tomatoes; green, yellow, red and orange peppers; peaches and cream corn, okra, squash and watermelon. MTSU students joined the inmates Thursday to install drip lines for irrigation. Student Cody Cogdill offered to return and help the inmates.
Porto previously helped his grandmother plant flowers in her garden. He hopes to adapt the gardening lessons to the next level. "My real passion is culinary," Porto said with a broad smile. "That's what I want to do when I get out."