FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1) How did The Garden Project get started?
In 1982, Cathrine Sneed and San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey
began a program for prisoners at the San Francisco County Jail known
as The Horticulture Project. In search of a more therapeutic
environment, Cathrine Sneed, who was then a counselor at the jail,
began to take prisoners outside to work on the Jail’s farm. The farm
had been fully operational until the 1920’s. Prisoners responded
enthusiastically to the program. From the beginning, the
Horticulture Project concentrated on growing organic vegetables as
a metaphor for the life struggles of the prisoners, many of whom
were addicts. The prisoners donated the food that they grew to local
soup kitchens. While in the program many prisoners made important
progress on the personal issues that brought them to jail. However,
when they were released from jail, they were once again confronted
by the same issues that had brought them to jail in the first place
– poverty, homelessness, lack of employment, lack of job skills,
alcohol and drug addiction. Unfortunately, many of these people
ended up returning to jail. Recognizing the need for a
post-release program to help resolve the difficulties confronting
former offenders, Cathrine Sneed and Sheriff Michael Hennessey
began The Garden Project in 1992.
2) What is the mission and vision of the
organization? Has the mission/vision changed with time?
In the beginning, the mission of the program was to offer structure
and support to former offenders through job training in gardening,
counseling, and assistance in education. Today we continue to
respond to the changing needs of the population that we serve.
Essentially, we are working on crime prevention. We want to give
people the tools and skills they need to remain out of jail. At the
same time, we want to make an impact on the neighborhoods from which
most of the prisoners in our local jails come. Today, in addition
to working with former prisoners, The Garden Project also has a
program specifically for at-risk young adults, called The Earth
Stewards Program. As an organization that seeks to pool the
resources and needs of local public and private organizations to
make a real impact on individuals and their communities, we work
with the Police Department, the Housing Authority, and local
community groups. Over time, we have increased this programming as
we work with these groups to better understand the population we are
serving. For example, about 8 years ago, we were introduced to a
community group in the Mission district of San Francisco, called the
Mission Education Project, Inc. This gave us access to a community
that we had not been serving effectively before. Through that
partnership, we are able to make an important connection with the
Spanish speaking community in San Francisco.
3) How does The Garden Project operate?
Our farm and nurseries are learning tools for our participants. We
do employ a farm manager and supervisors who are not participants
but, essentially, we allow our participants to learn about all the
facets of the process. The vegetables grown by The Garden Project
Apprentices are distributed at community centers to needy seniors
and families. Our vegetables also help to support cooking classes.
The plants started in our greenhouse are donated to schools and
other community organizations. Each year The Garden Project delivers
hundreds of Halloween pumpkins to police stations that distribute
the pumpkins to needy families.
In addition to our organic farm, we have a perennial ornamental
nursery and a California Native Plant Nursery. Garden Project
Apprentices (former offenders) perform the daily tasks necessary to
maintain the farm and make deliveries under the direction of a
supervisor and the farm manager. Earth Stewards Apprentices
(at-risk young adults) work on projects as stipulated by our partner
and contractor, The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. In
addition, Earth Stewards maintain the native plant nursery.
The Garden Project is more than just a farm; it is an organization
committed to the personal goals and growth of our participants. All
participants also attend counseling and school to obtain a high
school diploma or college credit.
4) How does The Garden Project manage and
appropriately direct volunteers in the garden?
We take volunteers on a project by project basis. For security
reasons, we are unable to offer many volunteer opportunities.
5) How does the project integrate a diversity of
people from the community into the garden, including low-income
families, homeless individuals, and/or ex-offenders?
Diversity is built into the mission of the program. Our program
works to serve former prisoners, at-risk individuals and the
communities from which they come – which are predominantly
low-income minorities with little education. In addition, their
work serves a similar population as well as poor seniors, disabled
individuals, and families.
6) How does The Garden Project foster a successful
working environment with these groups of individuals in the garden?
The garden serves as a site through which our participants learn
important life skills such as effective communication and working in
a group. Each work assignment fosters the development of these
skills. Participants also work with counselors and in academic
settings that reinforce these skills and allow for reflection on
7) How does The Garden Project foster a clean,
drug-free, safe environment in the garden?
Abstinence from drug and alcohol use is a basic requirement of the
program. Those who do not meet these requirements are fired. Since
most of the participants are on parole, abstinence is also required
to meet the conditions of parole. Because many participants are
former addicts, the goal of The Garden Project is to provide a
supportive atmosphere in which participants learn other ways to cope
with stress and problems in their lives.
8) What outlets do The Garden Project have to move
the produce from the garden and what system is in place to get the
produce to the customer?
In past years, we sold the organic vegetables we produced to many of
the finest restaurants and outlets in the Bay Area, including Chez
Panisse, the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, and Jardiniere. But we
came to realize that it was more important to meet the needs of the
low-income seniors and families in our communities who often have
may not any other access to healthy food, so instead of selling our
produce, we donate our organic vegetables to needy communities such
as senior citizens and youth centers.
Because our Garden Project Apprentices have criminal records, we do
not allow them to have direct contact with many of the community
organizations with whom we work. They deliver the produce and plants
to community centers where the vegetables and plants are
9) How is The Garden Project funded?
The Garden Project is funded through government contracts and
grants, foundations grants, and private donations. We work under
contract with the San Francisco Sheriff ‘ s Dept. and the San
Francisco Public Utilities Commission. We partner with more than 25
community organizations to pool the resources and needs of these
organizations to support our work.
10) How does the project market the garden?
Our website is www.gardenproject.org.
11) Who owns the land the garden is on? What type of
agreement does The Garden Project have with the landowners?
The Garden Project Farm is on the property of the San Francisco
County Jail, owned by the City and County of San Francisco.
12) Describe the major challenges of the project? How
did The Garden Project overcome these challenges?
Ongoing funding for the project continues to be a challenge. We work
to overcome this by demonstrating our impact on the city of San
Francisco and the effectiveness of our model. For example, a study
published in American Jails found that less than 25% of Garden
Project participants return to jail. Since 1992, we have planted
more than 10,000 street trees in
Each week, we’re feeding thousands of low-income families and
seniors. These activities have direct impact – changing communities,
reducing the costs of policing, incarceration, and social services.
We are also providing services that many of these communities would
not have access to without us.
13) Describe the major successes of the project.
What made these successes possible?
The Garden Project is a proven successful model for how communities
can come together to effectively address a problem that faces every
municipality in the country. People throughout the country turn to
crime because they lack the skills to do anything else. Throughout
the nation, people are released from jail in worse condition than
when they entered. As the study in American Jails proved, we’re
making a substantial difference. More than just a program for
former offenders, The Garden Project is an integrated,
community-wide, systemic response to crime, high rates of
recidivism, and unemployment – linking crime and poverty with
stewardship of the environment and the community. The United States
Department of Agriculture hailed The Garden Project as "one of the
most innovative and successful community-based crime prevention
programs in the country."