Garden program educates Peoria County detention center youths

Chronicle Media

The Peoria County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) Extension is working with the University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit Master Gardeners on a gardening program that is a hands-on activity for the residents. (Photo courtesy of Peoria Co. JDC)

University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit Master Gardeners Karl Stach and Julie Dantone are leading the team that successfully launched a gardening education program for young residents (ages 10 through 18) of the Peoria County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC).

JDC officials reached out to Extension staff in May with a request for horticultural expertise to create a program that would teach their residents about gardening while giving them a chance to spend constructive and rewarding time in an engaging hands-on activity.

With the help of Ian Goslin, Extension program coordinator for the Master Gardener program, the committee benchmarked similar programs in Cook and Champaign counties. Equipped with detailed plans, additional research, their Master Gardener training, and a supportive JDC leadership team, the program was launched this summer.

Although the resident number varies, Master Gardeners will often have 30 high school students and five or so middle school and junior high students learning in the garden.

Student residents have shown strong engagement: one suggested adding more gardening beds and devised a way to rearrange them to create additional space.

Others have tied their learning to gardening experiences at home and hope to continue gardening when they return to their communities.

An unused, open-air exercise court in the facility offered about 1,500 square feet of space for the garden. With the help of JDC staff and Master Gardener volunteers, 26 half-barrel beds and 37 half-barrel containers were installed, all of them made of donated recycled materials.

A local composter provided very low cost garden soil and delivered it for free. The program received many donations of seeds and plants.

The JDC itself procured a variety of supplies including a tumbler-style composter that uses garden waste as well as compostable waste from their dining room.

The team’s intention has been for the garden to become a therapeutic sensory environment for nurture and education. It has also become a wonderful space for use by the JDC’s Mental Health team.

Along with hands-on gardening learning, the JDC garden program offers a year-round educational curriculum for the young people who reside there.

Master Gardeners and other volunteers meet two times each week with small groups of residents to provide interactive classroom instruction on gardening, horticulture, healthy eating, nature, and environmental stewardship.

Produce from the garden was used to make salads for the residents with plans to expand produce selections for use by the facility’s own kitchen.

The JDC garden program represents a rich partnership among local officials, areas businesses, community volunteers, and Extension Master Gardeners to provide gardening education and environmental awareness to these young people that will help them succeed as they return to their communities.

Master Gardeners are trained volunteers through University of Illinois Extension.

For more information, visit or contact Ian Goslin, Master Gardener program coordinator at or 309-347-6614.