Driving by Madison Correctional Institution (MaCI), a passerby might not think of it as a source for fresh produce, but the correctional facility on state Route 56 has become home to a growing “truck farm” operation benefiting residents in London and beyond.
On Tuesday five MaCI inmates bent over and squatted to pick the fruits of their labors grown over the last few months. They busily picked green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes and kale from well-cared for plants, filling several trays with the hearty vegetables.
When the trays are filled, they are shipped to the H.E.L.P. House in London, where they are distributed to the clients.
Between rows on the 20-foot by 30-foot plot, straw had been laid down to thwart weed growth.
The garden-plot project germinated in the mind of case worker Lisa Crain. Herself a gardener, Crain implemented the idea and had inmates begin at the ground level.
“The plot was grass,” Crain said. “They took up the sod and tilled it.”
While a number of the inmates, who grew up on city streets and committed their crimes there, had no experience with gardening, inmate Ryan Smith and another older inmate taught the others as they progressed through the process.
Of the older inmate (whose name has been withheld by request), Crain called him “a natural.”
“Some guys had never done it and found the process interesting,” she said.
For Smith it became emotional because he recalled when he was a boy, learning to garden from his grandfather.
With no water source near the plots, inmates filled large containers with water, rolled them to the plots and then dipped the water out by hand to water their plants.
Then the gardens began to produce.
And, you get the picture.
Crain said collectively the gardens at MaCI and LoCI have produced nearly 1,600 pounds of produce.
Again for Smith, the delivery has a face, which boosts his incentive. His ex-wife and his daughter have been served meals at the H.E.L.P. House, he said.
“It helps them out,” he said. “It made me feel good, I was helping to feed my kid (and) the community. It’s been a big change in my life.”
Smith said he plans to continue gardening when he goes home.
Crain said the initiative will grow next season.
H.E.L.P. House director Dee Heilman said receiving the freshly grown vegetables “has been a nice surprise this summer.”
Being fresh from the garden, the vegetables are appreciated by the clients, Heilman said.
Heilman said the fresh produce has been a welcome supplement to their inventory since canned fruits and vegetables are currently scarce. Without any subsidy, H.E.L.P. House has had to pay full price for them.
“It helps supplement the canned goods we aren’t receiving,” Heilman said. “They’ve been good to us. Both prisons have been good to us through the years. I wish it could be year round.”