Berrien County Juvenile Center youth taught gardening skillsPublished 10:44pm Thursday, March 24, 2011
ST. JOSEPH — Community gardens seem to be springing up throughout the city of Niles, and now the momentum is carrying over to other parts of Berrien County.
Mark VanTil, the Niles community gardens organizer, has brought the concept to the Berrien County Juvenile Center in Berrien Springs. The master gardener is teaching the youth at the corrective facility how to plant, tend and harvest their own vegetables.
The juvenile center is a 42-bed facility that houses and provides services to pre- and post-adjudicated youth.
Giving an update to the Berrien County commissioners in the administration committee, Juvenile Center Director Richard Dama said: “The youngsters are very excited about it, and so is the staff. We have someone who really knows what they’re doing.”
The community garden project is under way with VanTil helping the youth conduct soil sampling of the plot.
“It’s just a wonderful work project,” Dama said. “It’s an opportunity to learn to follow through, to take a seed, plant it, tend it and see it bear fruit.”
Dama said the community garden project is in line with the facility’s goal of “restorative justice.”
“They have taken from the community, and now they can give back,” he said.
VanTil is also helping develop community gardens at schools in the area, including Northside Childhood Development Center, Niles High School and Cedar Lane Alternative High School. He hopes to have a community garden in every school in the Niles district within two years.