Grafton prison garden supplies produce for five-course EDWINS vegan dining experience Oct. 26

CLEVELAND, Ohio — EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute is hosting a five-course vegan dining experience and wine pairing at its Shaker Square location at 6 p.m. Wednesday, October 26. Reservations are $85. EDWINS gives formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the hospitality industry and supports successful reentry into the community.

All produce for the vegan dinner was grown by currently incarcerated men at the Grafton Correctional Institute in Lorain County. The Grafton garden started in 2012 when former inmate Jeff Deel, who has an associate degree in horticulture, moved to the medium-security facility. At that time, he asked the administration if he could grow a small vegetable garden at the prison. Long story short, EdWINS facilitated getting the garden together. The original harvest was donated to a local church or used in the prison commissary.

“In prison, we had commissary food loaded with salt and little flavor,” he reflects. “I really learned to appreciate the flavor of freshness.”

Over the years the garden grew and evolved.

“I tried to grow a little bit of everything,” says Deel. “I was a greedy gardener. I always had to grow more the following year. We had so many plants donated one year that I didn’t have space. I was planting on the sides, on the edges. One year we had cabbage galore. When we took over supplying EDWINS we expanded that. During 2020 COVID we enlarged it to four times that size.”

“Our main crops during COVID were squash and zucchini,” he explains. “You can feed a lot more people with one squash than one pepper.”

Today the plot grows everything from tomatoes to Swiss chard, squash to corn as well as herbs like basil, oregano and sage. These are used in the menu year-round and for this special dinner.

Deel’s last efforts in the garden were ordering seeds for the 2022 season. He was released in June and is now a student in the EDWINS culinary program. This growing season he helped maintain the student center and restaurant gardens for EDWINS. He will graduate in January.

Paris Wolfe is a life and culture reporter for Cleveland.com. She has a special interest in food and dining. You can reach her at pwolfe@cleveland.com. Here’s a directory of her latest posts.

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