The program was brought back in 2009 when a small plant was built to process, freeze and ship the homegrown produce to prisons across the state. T
he first year it was in production, the plant processed more than 160,000 pounds of produce, according to Corrections Department publications.
This year, inmates grew broccoli, cabbage, carrots, melon, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, green beans and pinto beans.
Whetsel joins several sheriffs in the state who have started inmate gardening programs, or are seriously considering it.
Sheriffs in Haskell, Grady and Pittsburg counties report having had successful gardens this year.
Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel Kerns said they planted 6 acres this spring and have grown enough produce to feed the 200 inmates in his jail, a juvenile detention center, a mental health center and a battered women's shelter. It's been so plentiful that they've given about 400 pounds away to seniors, and their 100 tomato plants are only now ready to harvest, he said.
“We consume what we can consume, but it's just too much,” Kerns said.
Kerns said the garden hasn't been without its troubles, but so far they've overcome them. He said water wells they intended to use quickly ran dry with the drought, so they rigged an irrigation system from a nearby ditch to their fields.
They also learned that while the inmates love the fresh corn and okra, they detest radishes.
Kerns said he hears compliments and positive comments exchanged among the inmates about the fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It's a great source of pride for the guys that work in it,” Kerns said.
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Most of them have never gardened before, but they're learning a skill that hopefully they take with them when they're gone.”
Sheriff John Whetsel