published Friday, May 4th, 2012

Bradley County Juvenile Court garden grows plants, goals

Dustin Cronan, left, and Tanner Steffens hunt down the weeds invading the cabbage patch at the Bradley County Juvenile Court garden.
Dustin Cronan, left, and Tanner Steffens hunt down the weeds invading the cabbage patch at the Bradley County Juvenile Court garden.
Photo by Randall Higgins.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The garden has the fruits, vegetables and flowers any garden would have.

It also has kids learning something about being outdoors, about what they can grow with the right beginnings and the sweet rewards -- like strawberries -- that follow the work of planting, watering and weeding.

The fifth growing season has begun for Bradley County Juvenile Court's garden, a series of raised beds along a berm of dirt that Juvenile Judge Daniel Swafford called chert when he first saw it. But Swafford also saw the potential.

"They love to play in the garden," said Officer Ricky Tallent as some kids walked quickly out of a classroom at the juvenile center toward a door.

Those children were not in detention at the center. They are temporarily in the Day Treatment Center program. It is a room at the juvenile center where Bradley County Schools can provide a little extra mentoring about their behavior.

"I like it all," said Dustin Cronan as he and Tanner Steffens searched out weeds beneath the cabbages, stopping to watch a tiny spider decide where to scurry next.

"I like to draw, too," Dustin added.

There is something called garden art, assistant teacher Blythe Mayfield reminded him. Think about combining the two, she advised.

The Day Treatment Center accepts students in kindergarten through fifth grade from county schools, said teacher Emily Matthews. The program follows the school system's regular schedule and code of conduct.

The detention kids and community service kids get their turn in the garden, too.

And the garden program has grown to include other children with programs from the Greenway Table and from the Boys and Girls Club, said Terry Gallaher, juvenile court director. More than 30 children each week get some garden time now, he said.

"The experience with the garden is a big part of what we are trying to accomplish," said Tallent.

The program has been around long enough to have a track record now. Tallent said about 90 percent of the day treatment center kids go back to their regular classrooms with fewer or diminished behavior issues.

A Google search for juvenile detention gardens is likely to turn up Bradley County, one of the few in Tennessee, Gallaher said. That's how Rutherford County found the local garden. Their juvenile officers came here from Murfreesboro to have a look at the garden and now this summer, they will have one, too.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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