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Here comes the sun(flowers) – the Summit County Jail garden is in full bloom

The Summit County Jail has a garden that keeps inmates hard at work and inspired to do better when they are released.

Behind the Summit County Justice Center, colossal sunflowers flourish in the bright sun. Also tucked away there are a pumpkin patch that Charlie Brown could get lost in and a good-sized, well-organized greenhouse filled with hundreds of tomatoes, herbs and gardening books.

This garden is the result of efforts by Summit County Jail inmates. Jail commander Kacey Bates says the garden program has been going on for years – and gradually, the garden and the inmates tending to it have figured out the magic formula.

“Because we have a lot of inmates that come in and go out. And so it's different people who run the garden. In the past couple of years, we have one particular inmate who seeded the garden we had him for that long, and he really made this place like his goal to make it successful.”

A garden doesn’t grow without help. Bates says Brown’s Dairy donates the topsoil and Summit Community Gardens is on hand to help when needed.

Natalie McHale is garden director for Summit Community Gardens. She teaches inmates about seeds, soil and sun. McHale says she gives suggestions but it’s the inmates who decide what they will do next. She also says the garden can no longer be called a garden.

“Whenever I'm there, I tell them, this is a farm. This is not a garden. This is a functioning farm. And I'm just impressed about how self-sufficient they are," says McHale. "We teach, you know, a monthly class. And with that, my goal is to just kind of plant the seed, I guess, and provide them with enough knowledge and resources that they can continue reading about it and apply it to what they're doing day to day.”

The inmates grow various vegetables that they harvest for the jail kitchen. Bates says what’s not eaten there is donated to local food banks.

“Some of this has already been done. It was peas at the beginning. Carrots, there's beets. There's and they're learning. It was funny," she said. "I was talking to one of the people one of the inmates have come out here. And he's like, we've learned that we've planted them too close together. And this is what happens when you do this and he was telling me all about, you know what he had learned.”

Bates says there are several opportunities for inmates to work while incarcerated. Each job is a process that is earned over time and the garden is no different.

“Yeah, so this is a privilege to work out here. If he breaks the rules, if they there are rules about being out here," said Bates. "If they break the rules inside or out here, then they lose the privilege to come out. So this is in incentive, not only to learn and grow, but it's incentive not only to learn but it’s incentive to be out here and be productive.”

The hope is that when an inmate is released, they will use what they learned in the garden and have a chance at a better life. McHale says she’s seen that with her own eyes when an inmate emailed her 24 hours after getting out of jail.

“He had a construction background, which he's responsible for doing a lot of, you know, the beautifying of the space and building the archways and things like that. But he’s been helping at Summit Community gardens," said McHale. "He helped us build various beds. He's helped me build a little tool shed. So yeah, certainly. And he had never he had a ranching experience, and, but no agriculture experience, like he learned a lot just from applying himself and he's really excited about using those skills again. Now that he's back in his day-to-day life.”

The next addition to the garden is honey. A beehive is expected to arrive next week.

Andrea moved to Park City in 2017 with two huskies, two kids and one husband… not in that order. Prior to working at KPCW, she spent decades in the entertainment industry – and racked up a few awards in the process for her work on “Behind the Music” and most recently for a film she produced for Lifetime, “Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story.” She was featured on “Good Morning America” twice for her books which made best sellers lists in Dallas and Denver. She’s still hoping to write one that hits The New York Times list. She loves taking photos, loves the mountains, especially the fall, and is excited to be working with the amazing team at KPCW.