2 overlapping sections from an aerial photo showing Rikers Island tree nursery relocated "behind" new ARDC circa 1972.

Inmates work among Rikers trees April, 1987.
Had A
. . . and

(4th of 4 pages)
Trees lost to
jails growth.
Just as the poultry project was discontinued as a result of jail construction in the early 1960s, the tree nursery project was displaced, relocated, and eventually discontinued as a result by jail expansion and construction from the early 1970s through the early 1990s.


A detail from an illustration of Rikers Island layout, looking south, in era when the penitentiary, hospital and dorms were the only inmate facilities. Note the tree nursery was immediately east of the penitentiary and poultry area was south and somewhat west.
An illustration (right) showing the layout of Rikers Island in the era when the penitentiary, hospital and dormitories constituted the only inmate housing depicts the tree nursery to the immediate east of the penitentiary.

If one looks closely at the map drawing detail in the vicinity of the penitentiary and tree nursery, one can spot depicted the circular drive (circle) and flag pole (dot) in front of the penitentiary and nearby on opposite sides of the road the chapel/homes for the resident clerics, Protestant and Catholic.

A detail from a 1948 aerial photo of Rikers Island (below left) also shows part of the tree nursery directly opposite the penitentiary in the vicinity of the circular drive, flag pole and two chapels.


The tree nursery covers the top of the above image behind Protestant Mission House and Chapel in this detail from a 1948 aerial photo also showing the Catholic chapel across the roadway and the circular drive and flag pole in front of the penitentiary.
Construction of the inmate housing structures that eventually became known as the George Motchan Detention Center and the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center led to relocation of the tree nursery to the southeast section of the island in vicinity of what was called "the Beacon," a radio device used by LaGuardia Airport for communication with pilots.

In the aerial photo details near the top of this page the Beacon is that white circular structure amid the nursery trees.

Eventually, further inmate housing expansion -- construction of the Rose M. Singer Center in the late 1980s and the George R. Verno Center in the early 1990s -- resulted in completely dislodging the tree nursery from the island.

Horticulture, Agriculture Hardy

But never permanently dislodged from the island has been the supervised growing of flowers, plants and vegetables by inmates.

Different administrations through the decades have varied in the amount of support they gave or could give such greenery and growing projects.


NYC DOC March 1959 photo by Cecil Ramsey labeled Rikers Island Green House Winter Planting.
Yet the Rikers Island horticultural and agricultural impulse appears quite hardy and resilient despite setbacks over the years.

In early 2005, while attending the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Court TV staffer and former NY Institute of Technology 2002 newspaper editor Charles Harris posted a story on the university web site about Rikers farming.

He interviewed Harry Bragg who retired in 1999 after 25 years with DOC, most spent running the farm program. Bragg, then 72, told Harris, “It was my baby.”

The farm provided lettuce, zucchini, squash, beans, tomatoes, melons, and collards -- 120,000+ lbs. annually at its peak -- that saved money, added diversity to the menu and gave inmates a chance to work in the open fresh air.

A systems analyst, Bragg joined DOC in 1974. In 1981 he proposed using sections of the island to restart farming on the island.


Sign reads "Project Greenworks," the name of the HSNY program on Rikers from 1986 to 1993. Since 1996/7 it has been called the Greenhouse Project. These photos of the HSNY Greenhouse Project on Rikers were taken January 2006 by NYCHS photographer Tom O'Connor. All rights reserved.


“Remember I'm from central Harlem and didn't know anything about growing stuff,” Harris quoted Bragg as saying. “I was given $5,000 and two acres of land, and the first year we harvested over $10,000 worth of produce. I had a couple of officers who had gardens, we got technical help from Cornell University Cooperative extension along with the Horticultural Society of New York, and we all learned together.”

At one point, the renewed Rikers farm filled nine fields spread over a total of 20 acres. As many as 300 inmates and 20 Corrections Officers worked on the project, the program was considered by many a success.

“Everybody looked good,” Harris quoted Bragg. “We saved the prison around $60,000 a year and the program generated good press. It kept the men busy, there was minimal violence, and fresh vegetables were served to the prisoners.”

Cornell Cooperative extension agent John Ameroso, who assisted Bragg setting up the farm, told Harris: “For a guy who didn’t know anything about agriculture, he did a hell of a job.” Using more formal language in 1993, Commissioner Catherine M. Abate lauded Bragg's work and the farm program.


These photos of the HSNY Greenhouse Project on Rikers were taken January 2006 by NYCHS photographer Tom O'Connor. All rights reserved.


Bragg, who has kept in touch with colleagues, said that after his departure, farm activity faded as other priorities -- such as reducing the high incidence of inmate violence endangering inmates and staff -- diverted the limited budget and personnel resources available. The agricultural program was eventually suspended

However, James Jiler of the Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY), who runs the greenhouse project on the island, was quoted by Harris in 2005 as noting movement in recent years to revive the farming program. But Jiler indicated he recognized the severe budget cuts that the department faced could make reviving it difficult.

The HSNY program provides education, counseling, job training, and transitional employment to New York City inmates. HSNY has worked with inmates at the Rikers since 1986, teaching basic work skills through a small horticulture and nursery operation and performing landscaping around the greenhouse. Inmates spend time in the greenhouse classroom, learning principles of botany, soil, and natural science.

When inmates were ready for release, the project coordinator tries to find them jobs in horticulture. HSNY offers paid 9-12 month internships to former inmates to maintain gardens at public libraries and in private and public spaces throughout New York City.


These photos of the HSNY Greenhouse Project on Rikers were taken January 2006 by NYCHS photographer Tom O'Connor. All rights reserved.


Rikers Farm
A Beginning

Under a headline "At Work on Rikers, in the Garden of Good and Evil," The New York Sun on Friday, August 12, 2005 published a story by staff reporter Lauren Elkies, that also noted the revival of farming on the island:

"This year, inmates planted and continue to tend to more than 500 plants in two lots amounting to a little under an acre.

"Of all the produce, which also includes cantaloupe and peppers, only the peppers did not flourish this season, Carrolle Banfield, the director of the [Farm and Horticulture Project], said.

"Ms. Banfield has been working on Rikers Island for 14 years and in 2002 revived the [Farm Project],, which had long been defunct.

"Later this month the crew will prepare the earth for the fall planting of broccoli, red and green cabbage, and collard greens, Ms. Banfield said.

"These vegetables should be ripe for picking come Thanksgiving.

"In the wintertime, the farming inmates take a break from actual gardening and instead shovel snow and participate in discussion groups about gardening. . . "


These photos of the HSNY Greenhouse Project on Rikers were taken January 2006 by NYCHS photographer Tom O'Connor. All rights reserved.


A Word
from the

"Warden Frank Squillante, [who] supervises the Eric M. Taylor Center which houses sentenced adolescent and adult males on the island, [said of] the farm program participants, -- 'Those guys are into it.'

"He described the Farm Project as 'a very tranquil program' that offers a unique opportunity to the inmates.

"Typically, when new inmates join the farm group, Ms. Banfield, who oversees the program, said, they cannot differentiate between a plant and a weed.

"With the assistance of two correction officers, Ms. Banfield teaches them about the germination process, the differences between plants and good and bad weeds, and the reasons ladybugs are good for the plants - to keep mites away, she said.

"The Farm Project is a small program, but it yields enough produce to create sizable charitable donations, in addition to making a contribution to the ecosystem of Rikers Island.


From Horticultural Society of New York 2000/1 photo of Rikers inmates tilling soil near Greenhouse Project gazebo.
"Food waste, combined with wood chips, is the fodder for compost processed by the Department of Sanitation in a composting station on the island, according to a department official, Kirk Tomlinson.

"Mr. Tomlinson is deputy director of the Sanitation Department's Compost Unit, a part of the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse & Recycling.

"The compost station generates 2,400 tons of compost each year, which is then used for planting by the Farm Project,

"Mr. Tomlinson said. The composting system was developed to 'get the Corrections food waste out of the food stream,' Mr. Tomlinson said, 'and do something good with it.' "

The NYCHS webmaster, checking with knowledgeable veteran DOC staffers, has gotten back reports on Carrolle Banfield's fields that can be summed up this way:

Farming, having taken root once again on Rikers Island, appears alive and well and growing . . . .

Click the underlined page description link to access its page.
Rikers family farm & Municipal Farm
Land Tilling & Landfilling
Page 3:
Eggery, piggery & tree nursery
Current -
Page 4:
Trees go but vegs & flowers linger.
The New York Sun full story "At Work on Rikers, in the Garden of Good and Evil" by staff reporter Lauren Elkies published Friday, August 12, 2005.

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