Rick Stern is the instructor for the jail industry program at the North County Detention Facility since 1994. Answering a newspaper ad placed by the Sonoma County Office of Education, Rick was hired to develop a fledgling jail industry program for the North County Detention Facility. The program places emphasis on practical use of horticultural techniques necessary to maintain five acres of ornamental flowers and trees, shrubs and various annual plants, as well as a summer vegetable garden.
The first six months in Rick’s new endeavor proved to be a growing experience. He was given a room full of inmates in a classroom he was not allowed to use for the entire day. The resources available Rick and his new charges were modest at best, consisting of one small green house and a couple of raised beds. The areas now employed by the jail industries program, five full acres, were littered with junk and trash. Everything from old mattresses to surplus office equipment had to be removed before more plants and flowers could be planted. It took one month of extensive cleaning to clear the blight.
The grounds now boast ten cold frame covers to protect plants from the elements, two thousand, fifteen-gallon trees, seven thousand, five-gallon trees and room for forty thousand, one-gallon plants and trees. There are one thousand flats of various annual plants. The first year of the garden, it produced only food items, which were used by the NCDF kitchen, with the extra being donated to local food banks.
It was decided to grow and sell ornamental flowers and plants, which are sold to the public by appointment. Rick also organizes two yearly plant sales, one in April and one in October, that are open to the public as well.
Now, the program has two acres dedicated to food production and three acres dedicated as a nursery for growing ornamental plants and trees. Every year, Rick and a crew of five inmates put together an exhibit at the Sonoma County Fair, and missed by only two points of taking top honors in 2005.
Rick has continued to develop new classes, to include professional speakers to augment the hands-on training he provides to the inmates. His dedication to the jail industries program is an inspiration to all those who work with and for him.