Prison Community Garden Feeds Community

Source: Living Lutheran

It was the right project for the right community. 

Food insecurity gripped the Milwaukee community. Pantry lines wrapped around the block. Communities forced to wrestle with the pandemic. It seemed like the perfect storm.

However, for those like Kurt Parks at the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center (FCCC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the pandemic created an opportunity for one of his passions to become a major asset for the community.

In their spare time, inmates worked together in a community garden through a program inaugurated in 2016 in partnership Breaking the Chains Church, an ELCA ministry inside FCCC. They were  given opportunities to plant and tend zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, greens and cabbage.

The garden’s produce not only got to serve meals at the facility, but last year due to a bountiful yield in excess of what FCCC could use, 50 pounds of each vegetable grown was donated to help address food insecurity.

David Rebey, pastor of Breaking the Chains, said, “The harvest was just falling off the plants, and I mentioned it to the guards.”

“They said, ‘We’d be happy to donate it because we have more than we can use here.’ And I said, ‘I think I can find a place.’”

Rebey began Breaking the Chains Church while a student in seminary where he was active as a lay volunteer. After his ordination in 2020, he was called as the organization pastor where he leads worship on Saturday nights and a Bible study on Wednesdays.

During the height of the pandemic, the facility adopted a quarantine policy that prohibited visitations. As a result, he began recording worship services to send to the facility on DVD and later got permission to lead worship services over Zoom.

When Rebey returned to FCCC, he was eager to reconnect. Elated that parishioners within FCCC with the help of corrections staff had maintained the garden, he reached out to Cross Lutheran Church Food Justice Ministry and other nearby pantries offering fresh vegetables to assist families.

“Most of the time [the pantries] get nonperishable items,” Rebey said. “They were ecstatic to have produce that looked like it came from a gourmet grocery store.”

Grateful to receive assistance from FCCC, several food banks have developed partnerships that will allow items from the community garden to continue to be a resource to families. 

It may seem small, but for inmates like Parks, after seeing so much suffering during the pandemic, he’s just grateful he can help.

Source: Living Lutheran