Prisoners at Christchurch Men’s Prison are learning horticultural skills and supplying fresh produce to Christchurch charity Help for the Homeless.

The project is part of an initiative where prisoners have converted the large grass area around one of the prison units into 17 new vegetable plots.

“This project is a great opportunity to do something really meaningful,” says Christchurch Men’s Prison Residential Manager Graeme Hunter. “The prisoners are learning new skills, gaining a qualification, contributing to a worthy cause and making a real difference for those in need in the local community.

Christchurch Men's Prison Residential Manager Graeme Hunter in the new prison garden.“The majority of the men involved haven’t grown vegetables before and this has been a big learning curve for them. The skills and work habits the men are learning can also open up employment opportunities on release and show the men how they can build a garden at home to feed their own families.

“They have been surprised how much they have enjoyed working outdoors on their plots and growing the produce.”

Help for the Homeless was founded in 2014 by Amy Burke, who saw homeless people hungry, cold, or going through rubbish bins in Christchurch and decided she wouldn’t turn the other way.

Amy says she began in a small way, asking friends and family for food, blankets, clothing - anything to provide warmth and nourishment.

“When I dream, I dream big and helping the guys, including some straight from prison, became fulltime work on its own.”

The organisation now provides those in need with Tuesday lunches, Sunday dinners and snack packs every other day.

“We are thrilled to be selected as the beneficiary of the prison garden produce,” says Amy.

“Any produce provided from the prison will go to our main cooks who create the dishes for our locals. We also provide support to the recently housed, including youth and any family going through hardship. This filters to schools and community organisations depending on surplus.”

Amy and her team visited the prison and spoke with the prisoners about their garden and horticulture course. The men were proud to share their knowledge and talk about their crops which include parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, cabbages, spring onions, broad beans, spinach, parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, radishes, coriander, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chives, corn, strawberries and fennel.

Amy and her team left the prison with their first delivery of more than 200 organically grown lettuces.

Prison Director John Roper congratulated Amy on her team and the valuable community service they offer. “It’s a wonderful thing Amy and her team are doing and Christchurch Men’s Prison is proud to be able to help this group.”

“The prison has a commitment to working prisons, which means engaging offenders in meaningful constructive activities, employment and training for a 40 hour week.

“Activities like this help everyone involved. Some of our prisoners have lived on the street and know first-hand how important this support is for people who don’t know where their next meal, clothing, shelter or warmth will come from.”

Produce supplied to Help for the Homeless is always welcomed and distributed in a number of different ways. Depending on supply, first distribution is to the cooks, volunteers who provide meals for those on the streets. If there is excess supply, the overflow then goes to those people the organisation has been able to find accommodation for, and thereafter to other community groups including lower decile schools for the students to take home.

Help for the Homeless is supported through donations and regular food support from Café Under the Red Verandah (Eastside) which provides two large hot dishes every Tuesday lunch with local produce and donated produce from Peter Rabbit and Solotti Foods. The Christchurch Men’s produce will contribute to this.

This year Help for the Homeless will celebrate Christmas on Sunday 27 December at Latimer Square with a special Christmas for the locals.