RALEIGH — Inmates at several state prisons across North Carolina raised approximately 16,250 pounds of fresh produce and donated it to local food banks, community pantries and social service organizations this year as part of the Combating Hunger project launched last spring.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety entered into a partnership with Harvest Now, a national non-profit already working with several other state prison systems with a mission is to fight hunger and improve health in communities. Fresh produce is one of the most expensive and scarcest commodities in North Carolina food banks, and Harvest Now sought the NCDPS prison system’s help in providing reliable, local sources of donated fresh produce.
In the spring of 2015, inmates started growing vegetables in prison gardens across the state and partnering with food banks, food pantries, or soup kitchens in their local communities to receive the harvests. The prisons work with local community colleges or agricultural extension offices for expertise and advice on planting and tending their gardens.
In the first growing season, seven prisons harvested and donated produce:
— Brown Creek Correctional Institution in Polkton maintains two gardens tended by 13 inmates. The prison donates its produce to Anson Crisis Ministry in Wadesboro. Brown Creek is currently harvesting winter cabbage but has grown peppers, corn, and cucumbers as well.
— Inmates at Pamlico Correctional Institution in Bayboro donated the 250 pounds of produce they harvested to Meals-on-Wheels and the facility plans to expand its gardens soon.
— The gardeners at Robeson CRV (probation violation center) donate their produce to Robeson County Church and Community Center. Offenders harvested tomatoes, cabbage, and eggplant during their first season in the program.
— Odom Correctional Institution in Jackson harvested a variety of items from black beans to watermelons. The harvest was donated to local food banks and shelters. A local farmer and member of the prison’s community resource council, Larry Moses, has been instrumental in teaching the Odom inmates how to plant and grow.
— Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw has featured a large horticulture program for the past 20 years. Since partnering with Harvest Now, inmates have raised 1,038 total pounds of produce, all of which was donated to a local food bank. The zucchini crop alone was over 500 pounds.
— Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield, through its Plant-A-Row partnership, donated squash, watermelons, tomatoes, and kale to food pantries and shelters in Wake and Johnston counties.
— Southern Correctional Institution in Troy donated all of its harvest to the Montgomery County Food Bank.
“This program has proven very beneficial to inmates and offenders, by teaching agricultural skills, providing new work opportunities and helping them give back to communities,” said David Guice, commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. “They can see the fruits of their labor and know that they are helping others who cannot afford to feed themselves.”
A few prisons are now growing winter gardens and several more plan to join the Combating Hunger program with the new growing season in the spring.
More information about Harvest Now is available at www.Harvest-Now.net.