A GARDEN OF FREEDOM FOR THE WOMEN OF CROSSROADS
Crossroads six-month transition program for newly released California inmates is not your typical halfway house.
The women of Crossroads have spent significant time behind bars — for some, nearly half a lifetime. In prison, they endured long lines at the chow hall, strict dining schedules, and severely limited food options. The only glimpse of home-style cooking came from crafty yet dangerous handmade utensils known as “stingers,” to make hot food in their cells.
Now they’re on the outside, and have access to countless fruits, vegetables, and herbs in Crossroads’ very own backyard garden.
A bird bath and stone walkway decorate the Crossroads pool garden.
Tucked away behind two seemingly ordinary homes in Claremont are elaborate gardens — including a converted pool — full of organic strawberries, melons, herbs, and even chickens, all tended by the Crossroads program residents. Professor Nancy Neiman Auerbach teaches politics at Scripps College, and developed the Crossroads gardening and culinary program over four years ago. She wanted to give her students a sense of community, and simultaneously equip the Crossroads women with new skills, independence, dignity, and a support system.
The women of Crossroads find peace and purpose in the necessary tasks like hand watering, pulling weeds, and planting seeds. “Even if it’s 100 degrees, we’re happy to do it because, really, this is all to take care of us. It also teaches us how to garden and how important it is to have pure things,” says Mary Farrar, a Crossroads resident who recently discovered her green thumb. She’s learned to choose fresh versions of the vegetables that would usually come frozen or in a can. “We always have fresh green salad every night of the week,” she says.
A not-so-scary scarecrow watches over the Harvard House garden beside the chicken coop.
Many of the Crossroads women work during the day as they get acclimated back into society, so a majority of the gardening happens on the weekend. Each Saturday morning, Crossroads opens its doors to volunteers for community gardening sessions. Monday evenings are busy as well. During the spring and fall semesters, interns from Scripps College and Cal Poly Pomona work with the women to create Meatless Monday dishes made from donated produce and ingredients from the backyard.
To get even more use out of their garden greenery, the women make a variety of jams, marmalades, and herb mixes. Professor Auerbach recognized the popularity of these goods and helped launch Crossroads’ successful social enterprise, Fallen Fruit From Rising Women. Now the fruit of their labor funds other Crossroads programs including field trips and workshops for the residents. Shoppers can find their seasonal goodies at the Claremont Farmers Market, Cheese Cave, Good Eggs, and the gift shops at Huntington Library and Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden.