Blooming On The Inside
We know that flowers can have a powerful and positive therapeutic benefit to anyone, but especially for incarcerated women who have limited access to nature. The vast majority of women incarcerated at Coffee Creek struggle with mental health challenges on a daily basis. A research study at Rutgers University demonstrated that flowers have an immediate impact on happiness, a long-term positive effect on moods, lead to decreased depression and anxiety and have many other "strong positive effects on our emotional well being"
How Your Donation Helps!
- Funds seasonal flower design / therapeutic floriculture classes for incarcerated women in Minimum and Medium security facilities
- Purchase of flower seeds, bulbs, and plants for gardens in both facilities
- Purchase of supplies for classes, including flowers, containers, and art supplies
- Development of flower growing curriculum for garden crew
- Development of therapeutic flower-based curriculum for Behavioral Health providers
- Purchase of floriculture and floristry books for garden library
"The Garden Means Tranquility"
Since it's beginnings in 2009, the vegetable garden at Coffee Creek has offered women a place of respite and renewal in the midst of their incarceration. A project focused on growing and working creatively with flowers is a chance to build on that foundation. Here is how one woman described her experience in the garden:
On one evening in particular I remember being one of only eight or ten people on the yard which made it unusually quiet. The weather was perfect, warm with just a hint of a breeze as the sun was dropping in the sky. As I walked by the thriving garden I was stunned by the tranquil feeling settling over me. I remember the huge sunflowers all golden in yellows and brown reaching toward the sun. I just felt so peaceful and content, all the stress washing away. Tears stung my eyes I was so moved by it. That one evening of tranquility stayed with me for many days to come. Even now, just the memory of that walk, of that feeling, relaxes me and makes me smile. I guess to me the garden means tranquility.
What Does a Floral Design Class Look Like In Prison?
On a cold, wet, and gray Autumn day, a class of around 20 students gather in a small greenhouse where they are surrounded by buckets and buckets of colorful locally grown flowers, herbs and greens--some from local farms and some from the 1/2 acre garden just outside the door. During the two or so hours of the class women explore the colors, textures, and scents of the plants and flowers, and they create amazingly beautiful arrangements to share with staff and their fellow residents. They gather to have their photographs taken with their flowers--photos they can send home to friends and family. They are in awe of their creations and those of their fellow students and exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to make something beautiful.
The experience is not that different from floral design classes taught anywhere else, except that for these students the chance to work with flowers is a chance to step out of the routine of institutional life in a correctional facility and to engage in a powerful creative act that they are then able to share with others. More than once we have heard the participants say that a design class is "the best thing that's happened to me since I've been incarcerated" It is a rare and precious opportunity to connect directly to the natural world in a context where interaction with nature is very limited. Human beings respond intuitively to flowers and they can have a tremendously positive effect on our well-being. For women that are incarcerated, the opportunity to grow and arrange flowers provides this essential human experience.
History of the Garden at Coffee Creek
The Coffee Creek Garden was started in 2009 by a partnership between community volunteers and facility staff. The initial 6000 square foot growing area has been expanded to a half-acre organic garden in the main prison yard of the minimum security facility.
The gardeners grow organic vegetables and herbs, as well as flowers and native plants for habitat restoration. In 2016 they grew over 4,500 pounds of organic produce to improve nutrition and health for the women living at Coffee Creek.
The garden is cared for by a full time crew of women who are incarcerated at the facility. Depending on the season, 6-12 women plant and maintain the gardens and greenhouse, and care for our compost and worm bins. The gardeners also teach many of the gardening classes that are offered to women living at the minimum facility. The gardeners’ efforts are supported by community volunteers, facility staff and community partners.
Flowers in the Garden at Coffee Creek
Flower growing has always been a small part of the Coffee Creek garden, with a particular focus on growing flowers for bees and other pollinators and as habitat for beneficial insects. However, flower growing with an emphasis on cut flowers used in floral design was a new idea brought to us by a local flower grower. Over the past year we have partnered with Elizabeth Bryant, owner and grower at Rose Hill Flower Farm, who initiated the idea for a pilot project in cut flower growing and floral design activities at the facility. Elizabeth has helped to expand the numbers and varieties of flowers that are grown in the 1/2 acre vegetable garden. She has mentored the garden crew in flower growing, helped to create permanent beds dedicated to flower production, and has also taught a number of floral design / seasonal nature immersion classes at both the Minimum and Medium Security facilities. Elizabeth has said that the pilot project has been one of the most meaningful experiences of her life, as she has witnessed the profound appreciation of flowers expressed by the women at Coffee Creek.