BAKERSFIELD, CA - Lerdo Jail is going back to its roots, literally. Inmates have planted a garden right behind the barracks, reminiscent of the days when Lerdo had a farm.
In the early 90's. Lerdo's farm program dried up due to budget constraints. But, with new sprouts of interest last year, a garden is blossoming once again.
"Tomatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, chilies," said Melissa Gomez, a gardener inmate.
You name it, they grow it.
"Even cantaloupe," said Gomez.
An inmate-inspired idea, they started with just 250 seeds last spring.
"This was just a barren piece of dirt," said Lt. Greg Gonzales of the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
Now, the space behind the female minimum facility is a full-fledged garden.
"We grow on average a month, about 200 pounds," said Lt. Gonzales.
Jail staff pick the cream of the crop to tend to the plants, some males but mostly females.
"It makes me feel good," said Carlos Balbirona, inmate gardener. "Reminds me of my grandma."
"It just shows us that we are capable of doing anything we put our minds to even though we've never done it," said Gomez.
Detentions deputies say it's allowing the inmates to bloom where they've been planted, even if it's behind barbed wire.
"I knew a little bit of skills, but I learn more as I go along," said Carlos Balbirona, inmate gardener.
"It's just another way to teach the inmates a skill to possibly take back to the community," said Lt. Gonzales.
The community is already benefiting from the inmates' work, since most of the produce is donated to the Community Action Partnership's Kern food bank.
"That's cool because there are a lot of homeless people that don't got no food," said Balbirona.
With the donations, deputies hope the seeds of kindness may ripen into rehabilitation.
"I love this, and you know and I'm even thinking about going to my grandma's backyard and planting some of my own, so hopefully they grow this big," said Gomez.
The jail is also tossing around the idea of creating a Christmas tree farm on another vacant lot.