Growing food for a good cause

Volunteer Dene Thomas is accompanied by Corrections Officer Peter Markham as he oversees his horticultural students.A former Corrections instructor has been helping the men at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison grow produce for local charities for nearly four years.

Retiring after 12 years as an employment instructor, Dene Thomas is now a volunteer horticultural adviser.  Dene teaches the men how to plant and harvest vegetables at the Te Whare Tirohanga Māori unit, just one of the prison’s gardens that grow food for Women’s Refuge.

Dene shares his horticultural values and practical knowledge with two or three students for a few hours fortnightly, and also covers NZQA Unit Standard material.

“My professional life has been about increasing education and sharing what I know,” says Dene. “I see the men develop positive self esteem and a personal responsibility to the whenua (land).

“I cover the history of the plot, basic planting skills, rotational cropping, pruning and propagating. We use a whiteboard to monitor crops and seed sowing timetables that helps with their literacy and numeracy skills.”

Dene and his students have grown many varieties of fruit and vegetables including leeks, tomatoes, kamo kamo, kumara, watermelon, strawberries and grapes. They also have a thriving herb garden, worm farm and grow a range of native plants.

Regional Volunteer Coordinator Karyn Teddy says, “Dene’s very committed to his work, and is proud of the support provided to the community through the garden produce.”