Planting seeds: Inmate garden program paying dividends

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Now in its second year of operation, a garden experiment at the Shelby County Jail is paying dividends in more ways than one.

Thanks to an idea from County Manager Alex Dudchock, inmates on a strictly volunteer basis are tending a garden about a third of an acre in size in which they are growing okra, cucumber, zucchini and yellow squash.

Not only does the garden give the inmates a bit of &8220;freedom&8221; to work outside, it is also helping the jail operation save money and provides fresh vegetables for inmate meals; enough fresh vegetables in fact to feed 500 plus inmates every other day.

Ross Sposato, food services manager at the jail, said the garden saves 40 cents per inmate every other day.

John E. Jones of Columbiana, retired extension agent, has helped get the fledgling garden growing.

Jones said, &8220;We started by putting compost, leaves and a local lumber company donated two dump truck loads of old, rotted sawdust. And we put that on it. And last fall I hauled a number of loads of leaves out here that the inmates would take and spread &8216;em out…&8221;

Jones said, &8220;This will get better and better over the years.&8221;

Captain Mike Smitherman, Corrections Division Commander of the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s Office, said of Jones, &8220;We were fortunate in that he is one of the RSVP volunteers that man the front lobby (at the jail). And he&8217;s lent a lot of his time and talent to us and guidance.&8221;

Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry said, &8220;I think it&8217;s a great idea.&8221; Curry said of those who work the garden, &8220;…the other inmates in there ought to show appreciation to them… Our other alternative is buying it (vegetables) frozen, or canned or whatever, and when you get it fresh it&8217;s just better. So, they&8217;re doing everybody a favor by being willing to get out here and work on it.&8221;

One inmate said, &8220;It&8217;s a privilege to work out here.&8221; Another unidentified inmate said simply, &8220;It&8217;s freedom.&8221;

Jones said the inmates would continue to add organic matter to the garden and mulch in the fall