Visitors to the North County Detention Facility are surprised to see rows of carefully potted trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, vines, and food crops growing in the fields next to the facility. The plants are part of the rehabilitation component of the Jail's vocational program that allows inmate volunteers to help propagate and preserve the environment while they are paying off their debt to society.
The result of the unique partnership between the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, the Sonoma County Office of Education, the National Tree Trust and the School Environmental Education Docents is to train inmates to grow and nurture over 200 varieties of plants from seedlings to large 24" box trees. In the process the inmates gain self-esteem and employable skills.
Three acres are planted with vegetables which are served at the facility, with the extra produce contributed to local food banks.
Two acres of ornamental plants are grown for three programs:
* No-cost tree seedlings for cities, counties, schools and public agencies.
* Low-cost fundraising for schools.
* Plants for sale to the general public.
Jail Industry Program
Rick Stern is the instructor for the jail industry program at the North County Detention Facility since 1994. Answering a newspaper ad placed by the Sonoma County Office of Education, Rick was hired to develop a fledgling jail industry program for the North County Detention Facility. The program places emphasis on practical use of horticultural techniques necessary to maintain five acres of ornamental flowers and trees, shrubs and various annual plants, as well as a summer vegetable garden.
The first six months in Rick’s new endeavor proved to be a growing experience. He was given a room full of inmates in a classroom he was not allowed to use for the entire day. The resources available Rick and his new charges were modest at best, consisting of one small green house and a couple of raised beds. The areas now employed by the jail industries program, five full acres, were littered with junk and trash. Everything from old mattresses to surplus office equipment had to be removed before more plants and flowers could be planted. It took one month of extensive cleaning to clear the blight.
The grounds now boast ten cold frame covers to protect plants from the elements, two thousand, fifteen-gallon trees, seven thousand, five-gallon trees and room for forty thousand, one-gallon plants and trees. There are one thousand flats of various annual plants. The first year of the garden, it produced only food items, which were used by the NCDF kitchen, with the extra being donated to local food banks.
It was decided to grow and sell ornamental flowers and plants, which are sold to the public by appointment. Rick also organizes two yearly plant sales, one in April and one in October, that are open to the public as well.
Now, the program has two acres dedicated to food production and three acres dedicated as a nursery for growing ornamental plants and trees. Every year, Rick and a crew of five inmates put together an exhibit at the Sonoma County Fair, and missed by only two points of taking top honors in 2005.
Rick has continued to develop new classes, to include professional speakers to augment the hands-on training he provides to the inmates. His dedication to the jail industries program is an inspiration to all those who work with and for him.
What to expect on the day of your visit:
- When you arrive for your appointment, you will be met by the Horticulture Instructor
- The instructor will assign you an inmate student to assist you in locating, carrying, and loading your plants.
- We are only able to accept checks. No cash or credit cards will be accepted.
- You must have an appointment prior to visiting the facility. Drop-in appointments are not permitted.
- Do not talk to any inmate without previously receiving the instructor's permission and do not give any item to inmates at any time. This is intended for your safety and to ensure the safety and security of the facility.
- Furthermore, section 4570 of the penal code states:
Any person, without the permission of jail staff, who communicates with any inmate or any person who brings any letter, writing, literature, reading matter, etc. to any inmate is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- The following clothing/attire is not permitted when visiting the North County Detention Facility or the Jail Industries Plant Nursery:
- No sports team attire or gang insignias
- No bare midriffs or low-cut tube, tank, or revealing tops
The Sonoma County Jail Industries Plant Nursery is open by appointment only. Normal operating hours are Monday - Friday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. In order to schedule an appointment for your visit you must contact the program's instructor.
Jail Industries/ROP Instructor
Phone: (707) 525-8310
Fax: (707) 544-0105
The Jail Industries Program works with numerous outside agencies (i.e., local schools and other non-profit organizations). These agencies benefit from the Program as receivers of donated plants, seedlings, produce, and materials.
Examples of this include:
- The program provides free vegetable starts and seeds to any school to use in their own student gardens. Thus far, the program has assisted more than 50 schools in Sonoma, Marin, Lake, and Napa Counties. A brief list of schools includes:
- Valley Vista Elementary, Petaluma
- Valley Vista Elementary, Petaluma
- Bellevue School, Rohnert Park
- Steele Lane Elementary, Santa Rosa
- Casa Grande High School, Petaluma
- Petaluma Junior High, Petaluma
- Cherry Valley Elementary, Petaluma
- Bel Aire School, Tiburon
- Brook Hill Elementary
- Calistoga Elementary
- Davidson Middle School
- Piner High School, Santa Rosa
- The program also assists schools in their fundraising efforts by providing low cost plants for them to sell.
- Local food banks have benefited from the program through the donation of vegetables that are in excess of what is needed in the detention kitchen facilities.
The program also works closely with the National Tree Trust and its partners. The National Tree Trust is a program that provides free tree seedlings to be planted on public properties. Jail Industries provides between 5,000 and 10,000 trees, of ten different varieties, each year.
How Can You Help
There are many ways in which you can help support the Jail Industries Program. First and foremost, you can schedule a visit to the plant nursery or attend one of our open house events. If you like what you see, please spread the word and let your friends and family know about our program.
Do you have items that you would like to donate to the program? If so, please contact Rick Stern at (707)525-8310. The plant nursery is always in need of the following new or used items:
- Plant Containers (4 in., 1 gal., 5 gal., 15 gal. or bigger)
- Irrigation Supplies
- Garden Books
- Horticulture/Landscape/Garden Videos
Are you interested in volunteering your time to assist with the Jail Industries Program? Please contact Rick Stern at (707) 525-8310 if you are interested in volunteering in any of the following areas:
- Guest Speakers
- Contractors or Landscapers who are willing to teach landscaping skills (1 day classes)
- Assistants for our Open House/Plant Sale events
- Assist with developing the Jail Industries Newsletter
- Assist with digital photos for the Jail Industries Calendar, Newsletter, and website