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Published May 21, 2010, 02:46 PM

Idaho prisoners grow produce for food bank

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho prisoners are growing produce for a food bank on cropland in the desert south of Boise, a project that aims to give inmates something to do and the needy something to eat.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho prisoners are growing produce for a food bank on cropland in the desert south of Boise, a project that aims to give inmates something to do and the needy something to eat.

Inmates are preparing about 6 acres of prison ground near the South Idaho Correctional Institution for beans, carrots, corn and red potatoes. Once the vegetables mature, they’ll go to the Idaho Foodbank.

The Idaho Statesman reports this project harkens back to an era when Idaho prisoners raised their own food.

But a prison slaughterhouse, dairy and produce-growing operation were abandoned years ago, because it became cheaper just to buy food for inmates.

For this project, donations accounted for seeds, fertilizer and other supplies to make it affordable.

“Occupying time is a big issue in prison,” said Deputy Warden Jay Christensen. “When in-mates get up at 5 a.m. to fire up the irrigation pumps, then work in the fields, when they come back, they’re ready to hit the bunks.”

It also has the advantage of being convenient for the prison system.

The land is only about 400 yards from the prison, so work crews don’t need to travel far to get to their job site.

“It can be done at a very low cost near the facility,” said prison spokesman Jeff Ray. “We don’t have a big transportation issue, moving inmates off site. In this particular case, it’s very easy to do.”

The University of Idaho Extension Service is lending its expertise to the growing operation, which is located on land that’s been fallow since the 1990s.

The Idaho Food Bank’s study “Hunger in Idaho 2010” found that 17,200 Idahoans per week, and 142,200 per year, need emergency food assistance.

The food bank, which has seen a 25 percent increase in demand for food assistance over the past year as Idaho’s unemployment rate topped 9 percent, has refrigerated trucks and a big freezer, so it can manage the volume of vegetables the prison field will produce.

“This donation program stands out for us,” said Karen Vauk, president of the Idaho Food-bank.

The idea came about when Malcolm Klauss, a district manager at Farmers Insurance, dropped off a donation at the Idaho Foodbank. He wondered about the possibility of growing crops on public land for public good. Prison land, with prison labor, seemed like a natural fit.

Klauss pitched the idea to corrections officials, who were enthusiastic.

“They should have started this a long time ago,” said James Glenn Robinson, an inmate serving time for lewd conduct with a minor under 16. He is part of the inmate crew that starts work on the site each morning at about 6:30 a.m.

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