Juvenile Probation kids better themselves through new community garden

Jun 30, 2014 7:41 PM by Brian Johnson

Under Butte County Probation's new Fresh Start Youth Farm, kids in juvenile hall or on probation now have the opportunity to get their hands dirty. Not in the streets, but literally in the ground.

The program began when a Butte County Probation Officer traveled to the Portland area and found that two other juvenile probation departments had gardens. Since probation officials in Butte County said they were having troubles addressing gaps in services for kids, a garden seemed like the perfect way to grow in that area.
16-year-old Brandon Malcom enjoys coming up to the Fresh Start Youth Farm.

"[You] might not believe me saying that," Malcom said. "It's hot out here and stuff, but it's funner coming out here than sitting at home."

So does 16-year-old David Dominguez, who says even with the heat, the job at hand needs to get done.

The job? Tending to the plants they've grown (everything from tomatoes to rosemary) in the Fresh Start Youth Farm, Butte County's latest and greatest way to better the lives of troubled teens through community service opportunities.
"For all these community service projects, is to get these kids kind of back incorporated into the community, and see that they have a higher responsibility than to themselves," said Chief Deputy Probation Officer Wayne Barley.

"[They get to] learn some great skills, [like] farming and irrigation, but also, to make a connection to their community, to learn some pro-social skills to give back to their community and at the same time give them an opportunity to earn some money," said Melissa Romero, another chief deputy probation officer with Butte County's Juvenile Division.

The money part will come later. For now the kids are just focusing on the skills they're picking up and the plants they're putting into the ground.

"It feels good just doing work you know," Malcom said. "Helping everybody out. Having like teamwork. And to come here a week later and all these plants are that much bigger, it kind of makes it seem like, you know, worth it."

Someday, Malcom wants to work with his hands underground, maybe in a mine.
David Dominguez wants to be a barber.
And these are the things they talk about with their peers, and even their superiors, while out here gardening.

"You're working side by side with these kids, and you're all equal at that point," said Barley. "We've actually seen an enormous change in their demeanors," added Romero.

Both Malcom and Dominguez said that during their more than year-long time in probation, they've overcome anger problems.

"I'd get upset at very small things and I wouldn't manage them well," Dominguez said.

"I've changed," Malcom said. "I feel it inside. I feel like a better person, you know."

There's a lot of growing going on here. And with time still left before harvest, who knows how much more they can grow? Hopefully by that time, they'll be ripe for the real world.
Starting in January, the probation department will conduct job interviews for kids who want to work on the farm next year. They'll get paid, and walk away with a resumes, letters of recommendations, and a portfolio.


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