Demeter Foundation offers a new gardening class for formerly incarcerated women

Photo credit: Alice PauserPhoto credit: Alice Pauser

The March 4 informational meeting on the gardening workshop has been cancelled and will be rescheduled.

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the Demeter Foundation did not work with the Department of Corrections and to reflect that Alice Pauser did not major in horticulture.

As spring weather steadily approaches, the Demeter Foundation will offer a multipurpose gardening class to incarcerated women. 

“Working primarily on community gardens, we hope to teach basic skills such as gardening, harvesting, planting, and cooking,” said Alice F. Pauser, the executive director and co-founder of the Demeter Foundation.  “Gardening is such a great way to practice patience, relieve stress, and learn to focus.”

Starting in late March, the Foundation will begin a new gardening class. The class will serve up to 10 formerly incarcerated women who apply to participate and will be held at a privately donated garden space in Fitchburg. Pauser will instruct the course along with two individuals who have extensive experience in gardening, and the class will focus on basic gardening skills that range from understanding the soil to learning local plant species.

The Demeter Foundation offers other courses throughout the year. Pauser, along with likeminded family members, started the Demeter Foundation to advocate for the humane treatment and the civil rights of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their families in Wisconsin. Eighty-four women have gone through their programs. 

“The motivation for setting up the foundation was the incarceration of my daughter,” said Pauser. “I wanted to help those in similar situations.”

The Foundation has been active in creating programs to improve the quality of life and reduce recidivism. Pauser said that the Foundation has provided wellness recovery workshops as well as resume writing workshops in the past. Now they are planning to open more nutrition and job programs in the future.

Tamika Perry, a 30-year-old participant who is new to the programs provided by the Foundation, said she views the gardening class as a valued opportunity to help her pursue her dream.

“I hope to become a certified electrician in the future,” said Perry. “I was looking for opportunities and found the class. I believe it would be a valuable resource and a starting ground for me to achieve that goal.”

Lasting throughout the summer, the gardening class is designed to leave participants with their hands full of fresh produce and social benefits as well.  

“I hope to gain knowledge that would help me graduate with a certificate and meet new people [from] various backgrounds,” said Perry.

Pauser has been happy with the results of their past programs that were designed to help the women build self-esteem and empower their lives by teaching them and preparing them for employment.

Other than through programs, the active commitment of the foundation has also helped many women emotionally.

“Alice and the Foundation have helped me in many ways,” said Perry. “They became a shoulder [to lean on] and ear [to listen] when I needed them.”

A commercial vegetable and herb grower who sold produce at the Dane County Farmers Market for eight years, Pauser said she is excited to share her knowledge on gardening with others and is grateful for the support of community partners and the families of the women involved.

An informational meeting will be held on March 4 at the Goodman South Madison Library from 6-7 p.m.