Husaini Yakubu from the Otautahi Community Housing Trust, and Karen Findlater from the Christchurch City Council Graffiti team watch prisoners loading tomato plants.The first of Rolleston Prison’s annual tomato plant delivery to Christchurch City Council social housing tenants has left the priso

“Each year the prison grows around 5,000 plants for city council tenants and community gardens,” says Rolleston Prison Manager, Mike Howson.

The plants will be delivered to tenants at the end of November thanks to a long-term partnership between the Department of Corrections and Christchurch City Council, and now the Otautahi Community Housing Trust. More than 35,000 tomato plants have been cultivated for tenants since the Tomatoes for Tenants Project began in 2008.

Tom* is one of the Rolleston prisoners involved in the tomato plant project. Tom hadn’t been interested in gardening before coming to prison, but has since discovered a hidden talent and interest in gardening. Over the past couple of years, he has achieved both his National Certificate in Horticulture Levels 1 to 3 and a National Certificate in Agriculture Level 2.

“I enjoy gardening because it lets me be at one with nature while I’m behind bars,” he says. “I learnt everything I know about gardening in prison. I really enjoy the opportunity to grow plants and produce for people in the community in the prison garden.”

All prisoners at Rolleston are engaged in wide ranging rehabilitative and education programmes. The gardens also grow large amounts of produce throughout the year for the Christchurch City Mission.

“The Rolleston garden projects make a real difference for those involved,” says Mike Howson. “It helps the men develop new social skills as they share tasks, achievements and ideas. Keeping active also helps with the men’s physical and mental wellbeing.”

Tom and the other prisoners involved get a great satisfaction from the project. “It makes me feel good that I can do something for the community,” he says, “Knowing that it will put a smile on someone’s face. That I am doing something good in the world.”

“The Tomatoes Project is one of the important milestones on the prison calendar,” says Mike. “The prisoners involved in the garden are always really proud to see the tomatoes leave in the council van for tenant and community gardens.”

“Prisoners feel they are making a meaningful contribution and learning skills as well. We hear of many prisoners who have worked in the gardens, continuing to grow their own vegetables on release.”

A prisoner tends tomato plants at Rolleston Prison.The Council values this enduring partnership with Corrections and the social benefits that continue to grow out of it. “The feedback is always positive with tenants asking when the plants are arriving and setting aside a space for them,” says Rick Fraser, Otautahi Community Housing Trust’s Community Liaison Advisor.

The delivery of the plants is a highly anticipated event by Council housing tenants and while individually each donation is a relatively small gesture, the wider social outcomes are significant.
“We know that it means a lot for many tenants as they contact us early in the year to see when their plants will be delivered,” says Rick.

Many tenants have expressed their appreciation to the Prison and the Trust, including some who are new to gardening. They received two plants each and help each other by planting any spare plants in a communal area. In some cases tenants work collaboratively, pooling their plants and sharing out the tomatoes between them when they’re ripe. Both parties look forward to continuing this healthy partnership.