Prison-grown potatoes at Christchurch Women's Prison. Supplying fresh vegetables to community organisations is something Canterbury prisons have been doing for as long as staff can remember.

No one can tell you how many people in prison have benefitted from this work and the skills learned, nor how many people in need have enjoyed the donation of prison-grown fresh produce.

Currently, with COVID-19 in our communities and pressure on community foodbanks, the donation of fresh produce has become both more important - and more challenging, with prisons facing their own COVID-19 challenges.

“Contributing food to the community, especially when it is so badly needed, is hugely satisfying for everyone involved,” says Prison Director Viv Whelan. “The women are aware of the pressure on families in the community and this is a way they can contribute, if not to their own whānau, to others.”

Horticulture Instructor Cath Sharp has been running the Christchurch Women’s Prison Horticulture training and external grounds for more than six years and the prison has had a produce supply relationship with a number of social services organisations over this time.

Over the past year, they have been supplying St Vincent de Paul, with weekly collections of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Cath says women in the grounds and horticulture team are learning skills to support their own families, gaining useful experience and working towards a range of qualifications for future employment.

“Some of the women are working towards NZ Cert Primary Skills-Horticulture (L2) and they also do other courses through external providers Vertical Horizon,” she says. “I currently have four doing a tractor skills course and this opens up other opportunities. Up-coming courses include Forklift Safety, Lite Utility Vehicle and Open Space Mowing unit standards.”

Cath says the gardens are important for the women’s wellbeing, they support the women’s mental and physical health by offering the opportunity for rewarding, meaningful labour and a calm space for reflection.

“Through working in the garden, people are also learning about ‘good’ food - they are feeling the pride and accomplishment of growing fresh produce and of gifting this to others and, importantly, they are gaining experience and qualifications. These are empowering skills they can use when they leave prison, at home or for employment,” she says.

Donations of fresh produce headed to families in need.
Horticulture Instructor Cath Sharp (left) helps Corey from St Vincent de Paul to load a weekly collection of fresh fruit and vegetables.