Food Fighter Feature: Cutting Costs and Building People

Woodford County Detention Center takes to the fields to grow a little bit of justice.

tomato harvestWhen it comes to food and fairness, few populations are more consistently disregarded than our nation’s incarcerated individuals.  Sentenced to time away from friends and families, and kept indoors with little access to fresh air and community engagement can leave inmates even more broken and disjointed from society than ever before.

The cost of detention does not present itself solely through spiritual degradation for inmates; it also presents a very real financial cost to American taxpayers at roughly $129/day (estimate based on 2009 California State Prisons cost analysis).  This money goes to inmate healthcare, security, feeding, administration and rehabilitation.  One jailer in Woodford County Kentucky decided as part of his term to cut some of those costs and engage inmates in taking ownership for their food and their well-being.

This week’s Food Fighter, Jailer Johnny Jones at the Woodford County Detention Center, comes from four generations of farmers who farmed land for a living in Midway, Kentucky.  Mr. Jones, before his election in 2010, worked at the Falling Springs Recreation Center, maintaining the county’s sports fields and satellite parks.  During this time he worked alongside with inmates from the Woodford County Detention Center and was inspired to run for jailer with his love for agriculture and a certain inmate empowerment gardening project in mind.

With the economy presenting a challenge for nearly every publicly-funded program in the country, Mr. Jones knew he had to find a way to engage inmates to help lower costs for the county, but he also wanted to share his love of agriculture and cultivated it in some of the folks at the jail.  He connected the Versailles Farm Service Agency and the Woodford County Detention Center and set out to turn 5 acres of unused land into a place where inmates could grow their own food, support local Senior Centers and bring a little justice to the prison food system.

peoples garden pictureThe project, now in its 2nd year, is already wildly successful.  Mr. Jones describes the garden:

“We have about 1 ½ acres of corn, 1 ½ acres of green beans, 1300 tomato plants, 300 pepper plants, 500 onions as well as a patch of watermelon and another for pumpkins.” 

Last year, crews of inmates volunteered to work together to plant, weed and harvest this land all season long, netting more than 8,000 lbs. of food in the 2011 growing season.  The majority of the food was sold directly back to CBM, the jail’s food service contractor, saving the county approximately $10,000.  

With the donation of 9 deep freezers, the project stretched its limbs even further.  After harvesting, inmates gained additional skills in working together to preserve some of the harvest for the winter.  They used the jail kitchen to blanch, freeze and can hundreds of pounds of corn, beans, tomatoes, and peppers to enjoy all winter long, further cutting food costs.  This was in addition to their normal participation in the prepping of the harvest for daily meals. 

What was left over couldn’t possibly go to waste.  By the end of last years growing season more than 700 lbs. of food found its way to the Lexington Rescue Mission, Woodford County Senior Citizen Center and Versailles Baptist Church Veggie Ministry mission, all entities working to help hungry and underserved citizens in Kentucky. The project was recently adopted by the USDA’s “People’s Garden” initative bringing even more resources and expertise just in time for their second growing season.  

“It’s a win-win-win!” Mr. Jones reflects. 

Inmates involved in the project are noticeably healthier and happier, the county is saving money, and hungry people are being provided with fresh local food to eat. The garden gives all individuals involved the opportunity to grow and eat fresh local food while developing skills that can be usedto help find work in the future.  This project is an inspiring example of what happens when we work together to bring some food justice to our own backyards. 

photo of Ari

For more information about the Woodford County Detention Center garden or how to get your own Food Justice project off the ground please email or call our National Food Security Coordinator: or (502) 569-5818.  Happy Growing!