Organic Garden Provides Connection to Nature & Community

This fall marked the end of the first growing season for Hope’s Garden at DuPage County Jail in Wheaton. The garden provides detainees the opportunity to experience the therapeutic benefits of gardening, composting, and giving back to the community. It is the result of a collaborative effort led by IFSC member SCARCE, DuPage County Environmental Committee Chair Liz Chaplin, DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, JUST of DuPage, and Cantigny Park.

“From the beginning we’ve seen this as a fantastic opportunity to teach job skills and life skills. Some of the people here have never even touched soil and now they are learning how to grow their own food, safely and without chemicals” notes Kay McKeen, SCARCE founder and executive director.

The garden makes use of a former dog run on the Sheriff’s office campus. It includes forty above-ground garden pods for growing vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers which are donated to local food pantries and domestic violence shelters. A large native garden was planted to support pollinators and absorb stormwater.


McKeen ensured that health and sustainability were guiding principles from the ground up. Food scrap amended compost was used to get the soil ready for growing. Compost is now being made on-site. The men assembled four jail-safe compost bins made by Austrian company Juwel. Currently, garden trimmings are being composted and come spring, they hope to begin adding food scraps from the jail. They look forward to using the finished compost to nourish their garden beds. Water for the garden is provided either by a drip irrigation system or lead-free garden hoses.

Hope’s Garden fulfills DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick’s focus for the jail: to provide hope and purpose to those incarcerated there. Michael Beary, executive director of JUST of DuPage, praised the Sheriff for installing another vocational and therapeutic program to help inmates battling addiction.

“Anything we can do that includes a therapeutic component to help our inmates, it goes toward our mission of helping inmates overcome the issues that brought them here in the first place,” Beary said. “The therapeutic aspect of gardening and growing things and nurturing things and getting outdoors is so important at this stage.”
Throughout the growing season, garden program participants harvested enough produce to donate to seven local food pantries. Cut flowers were donated to women’s shelters. Detainees marveled at the sunflowers – which they grew from tiny seedlings to vigorous 12 foot tall plants.

In October, DuPage County recognized the garden and the organizations involved in bringing it to life for creating a valuable resource for the community. Contributions were made by many local businesses, organizations, and community members including Prosek’s Greenhouse, the DuPage Water Commission, Elmhurst Garden Club, Hawthorne Garden Club, Wheaton Lions Club, as well as many residents.

As the season wrapped up, preparations were already underway to expand the garden. Participants planted more than 300 daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, and allium bulbs for an early harvest of flowers for shelters and senior care facilities. The pollinator garden is being expanded and a ‘Grandma Garden’ is being added which will include more cut-flowers to add to bouquets.