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SOWN and AGCC Nursery Partnership Program

Increased funding means more plants from our prison partnership.

A plant nursery partnership with the then Wacol Correctional Centre was first trialed in 2009 as a one year partnership with Brisbane City Council to supply native plants to southside Habitat Brisbane groups. In 2010 SOWN became involved, partnering with the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre (AGCC) as BRAG (Bushcare Regeneration at Arthur Gorrie).

Since then, a small group of dedicated staff and inmates at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre have worked with SOWN to expand the nursery, increasing propagation capacity by five times.

By July 2012 the Arthur Gorrie nursery was producing 15,000 tubestock plants per year. The diversity of plants grown at the Arthur Gorrie nursery has also doubled, with species such as Kennedia rubicunda (food for our native honeyeaters) joining the lomandras, acacias and eucalypts in the nursery.

Lomandra are in high demand for SOWN planting projects. These hardy native plants help stabilise creek banks and create a buffer to filter water as it flows into the creek. With the Arthur Gorrie nursery project taking over most of our lomandra production, SOWN volunteers will be able to concentrate on seed collection, cuttings and other strategies to increase the nursery's biodiversity. By June 2013 the aim is to supply SOWN with more than 40,000 plants of 35 different species.

This year, thanks to $8,000 from ENERGEX, SOWN has successfully upgraded the nursery trailer and purchased steel for eight new benches built by the inmates at Arthur Gorrie. Another $5,450 from Brisbane City Council's Environmental Grants Program enabled us to purchase and deliver plant tubes, trays, shadecloth, steel and 12 cubic metres of potting mix.

How it works

Volunteers collect seeds from a variety of locally native plants. Some of these are germinated at SOWN's nursery and taken to Arthur Gorrie as seedlings to be transferred to tubes. This is called 'pricking out'. Other seed is supplied direct to Arthur Gorrie to germinate in the new greenhouse. Organic fertiliser is produced 'in house' through the Arthur Gorrie worm farm, an innovative system using modified wheelie bins. Another chore done 'inside' to free up volunteer time is pot washing. Previously a never-ending job taking up the bulk of volunteer hours, this task has been taken on by the prison.

When the tubestock is ready to plant in one of SOWN's creek restoration sites, volunteers visit the prison to collect and deliver them to our main nursery in the Gap. In visiting the prison, security is strict. We have to pass through three check points accompanied by guards. Cameras, mobile phones, ropes and metal are not allowed inside and must be checked into lockers at the first checkpoint. We must wear ID and have proof of ID to get in. Vehicles must be locked when unattended. Inmates load and unload the deliveries including (most recently) packets of seed, trays and pots to wash, bird netting and a few thousand plants to prick out.

Plant propagation is just one of many projects inmates in the prison workshop area undertake. They also make nesting boxes, breed red-claw crayfish for Australia Zoo, collect Koala food plants, make wire mesh trays for carrying tubestock and grow veges. SOWN brings supplies to the nursery including plant tags and books on native plants for the prisoners to learn about the plants they are helping to grow. Recently SOWN helped out with the vege patch by supplying protective bird netting..

Since our involvement in the partnership we've come to realise the great potential this project has. The benefits for both the prison community and the environment make it a multi-dimensional project very attractive to sponsors and funding bodies and very rewarding for our volunteers.

Who is involved?

The Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre is a high security prison, privately administered by the GEO Group. Having something worthwhile and making a contribution to community gives prisoners a boost.

While most of us in the wider community are time poor, in prison the one thing you've got is plenty of time. Having something to work on helps pass the time. Also, inmates involved in the nursery program have the opportunity to gain formally recognised qualifications in horticulture. These skills give them more opportunities when they return to the wider community.

The Energex Sustainability and Environmental Fund is one of the major sponsors of the Arthur Gorrie Nursery Partnership Program. Proceeds from the sale of scrap metal and other recyclables provide the funds given to community organisations as grants.

SOWN continues to coordinate efforts to improve natural habitat in the Enoggera catchment by replacing weed species with locally native plants to create healthy, biodiverse habitat. SOWN volunteers run the nursery, maintain our website and organise training programs, working bees and maintenance projects. Locally native plants are free to SOWN members for their projects, or public and private land throughout the Enoggera catchment.

Looking ahead

As we increase nursery production with the help of our Arthur Gorrie Nursery Partnership Program our aim is turning to targeted seed collection to increase biodiversity in our plantings.
We are planning to become a conduit of Arthur Gorrie plants for special projects in other catchments. In 2012-2013 we are supplying Currumbin bird sanctuary with Allocasuarinas, food plants for the endangered Black Cockatoo. Another project will help the flood victims around Lowood revegetate their damaged natural areas.

Ultimately we hope the annual production of plants from the prison will exceed 100, 000 tubestock, a massive contribution to greening Brisbane naturally.