Teaching Science, Sustainability and Stewardship: Urban Gardening Program Celebrates Success at Leon County Juvenile Detention Facility

Posted at 5:30 PM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 14:46:36-04
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - There is an unmistakable sparkle in Michele Madison-Corichi's eyes as she watches one of the young ladies at the Leon County Juvenile Detention center enjoying a plate of kale.
"It's working!" She gushes, her excitement spilling over into the room. This is not the thrilled reaction of a parental figure, watching a teenager make a positive nutritional choice.
For Corichi, this is the culmination of five months of hard work. She has put sweat, and money, and meal-worms into this moment, and it is her time to triumph.
Corichi runs a non-profit, Farming the Future. She teaches STEM principles to students at Leon County schools and at the Leon County Juvenile Detention facility but she's not ordinarily in a classroom, and she comes to work wearing overalls.
Corichi helps her students to engineer conventional terrestrial gardens, and aquaponic gardens (which are essentially self contained ecosystems). 
The aquaponic garden is a closed loop system. Fish kept in a tank below a bed of strawberries fertilize water, that is fed into their planters. The plants essentially re-filter the water which is fed back into the fish tank. Students take part in planting. They raise the meal worms that feed the fish.
Then, on days like Thursday, the cafeteria at the juvenile detention facility gets to put aside the frozen goods in favor of something fresher. Something raised by the young people in the facility. 
The kitchen manager, Kathleen Newton says she thinks the program is a wonderful idea, it brings fresh food into the kitchen and encourages the kids to get their hands dirty and accomplish something out of the ordinary.
More than that, the garden is a place to go outside of the confines of the facility. It's a process of nurturing living things. More than that, Corichi says, it is a place for students to interact with mathematics and scientific principles, giving them a concrete reason to believe that a career in math or engineering is within reach. 
In the garden, students test water quality and pH. They learn about ecosystems, and raise meal-worms to feed the gold fish in the aquaponic garden. They also do math on planting day to figure out how bountiful a harvest they can expect. 
The journey that brought the garden, quite literally, to life has not been an easy one. "When we first started at the juvenile detention center in Leon County, there was no garden here." Corichi says, gesturing to the towering chain link fence behind her.
There was a barren greenhouse in the back, and the kids got to play basketball outside in the courtyard for a few minutes. When they reached out and I got to come in here...and start this whole process and to see it mold and change in develop? That was really special."
The starter plants for the terrestrial garden were donated by Tallahassee Nurseries. The other supplies, in large part, are purchased by Corichi herself. 
The time and money sunk into the soil is a small price to pay for this passionate scientist. Corichi says the beauty of the program, is that it brings young people who may never have encountered a garden before, the chance to take part. 
"Before I leave the detention facility, and the teens turned gardeners file into the cafeteria to taste the kale Newton sauteed," Corichi explains, "This morning, we got to harvest a bunch of kale that the kids planted, maintained, harvested, and got it into the cafeteria, and they're going to eat it today. There's NOTHING better than that." 
Access the Farming the Future's Facebook page here