Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 1, 1997. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Vegetable Farm Means Cheaper, Better Meals
RAYMOND -- Seeds are the only things breaking out from prison plots in one Mississippi facility, but the prisoners are still happy with the results.
Inmates at the Hinds County Penal Farm are eating better and costing taxpayers less money, thanks to a gardening program at the facility.
Bill Maily, Hinds County extension agent, helps run the Mississippi Vegetable Demonstration Project at the prison. Meal costs dropped from $1.68 to about 43 cents, saving more than $20,000 a month. The farm feeds the about 200 inmates, and supplements meals at the two Hinds County jails.
Capt. Dan Smith, commander of the penal farm, said state inmates at the prison work eight to 10 hours a day producing and preserving the food. Inmates prefer working on the farm to staying in their cells.
"We notice it builds self-esteem in that they're actually accomplishing something," Smith said. "It also builds a little pride because these are people who've never worked before and now they're doing something productive."
Maily said the 25-acre farm produces corn, peas, broccoli, greens, potatoes, cantaloupe, okra and more. Once 1,000 bushels of each crop is preserved, excess vegetables are sold to buy more farm supplies. Buyers are vendors at the local farmers' market and the public at a street corner vegetable stand.
"The money generated from the sale of the vegetables are put back into the farming operation for equipment, fertilizer, seeds and other gardening expenses for the next year," Maily said.
In addition to vegetable production, the farm has a hog operation, started a meat goat operation last year and expects to begin a cattle operation next year, Smith said.
Maily has been involved in the vegetable program since it began. He visits the farm at least twice a week handling soil analysis, making fertilizer recommendations, and overseeing seeding, irrigation and harvesting.
"If I didn't think it was worth the effort, I wouldn't be doing it," he said.
Since 1996, the farm has been self-sufficient and has required no money from the regular prison budget, Maily said. The farm also has lowered the operating cost of the prison.
In addition to the Hinds County Penal Farm, Harrison County and the state prison at Parchman have agricultural programs at their detention facilities. At a recent Hinds County facility field day, 11 counties learned about the program and six want more details on setting up similar programs in their own counties, Maily said.
"Once these prisoners have served their time, it gives them some knowledge and skills to fall back on when they return to society," Maily said. "It helps them get a job and be productive."
The vegetable demonstration project is a cooperation between several agencies and departments. These include Mississippi State University, Alcorn State University, Hinds Community College, Hinds County Board of Supervisors, Mississippi Agribusiness Council and Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.