Inmates grow produce for community

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG TV9) -- At the Newton Correctional Facility, a program lets minimum security inmates work to get food on the tables of Iowa's food insecure.

Rich Machin with the Newton Correctional Facility says, "A lot of people have enjoyed it. Inmates have learned something, I've learned something. You know, there's a lot of teamwork that goes into doing this."

For seven years, the Newton Correctional Facility has sent fresh produce to the Food Bank of Iowa, there's 1,200 acres of farmland around the facility, twelve acres of land are devoted to the food bank. The inmates plant, weed, and harvest it and some other land for food for the facility and for the community.

Then they load up hundreds of pounds of produce on a truck.
Machin says, "It's been a learning curve for me because I grew up on a farm, yes. But actually orchestrating all this has been quite a project."

The food bank helps the correctional facility get seed and budget for it, the inmates care for it, then the food bank provides the transportation to get it back.

For Newton inmate Larry Gross, it's familiar, "Yeah I grew up on a farm and my grandpa's always had a big garden and I've had my own in Des Moines."

Newton inmate Terry Rowe says he's never farmed before, "No, I've learned it all here what I've learned, I enjoy it very much, it's nice to be doing something back to the community and it's relaxing being out here than it is up there."

Gross says it's good for him, "It keeps me from spinning my wheels in my head and wasting time. It gives me something to do."

Rowe says, "It's also benefit for the inmates. They're working to be able to give something back to the community."

When the truck is all loaded up and settled, it heads back to the food bank in Des Moines to be sorted, so it's available for individual families.

The food bank works with 400 front-line agencies, who pick up orders for food and shops for produce.

President of the Food Bank of Iowa Michelle Book says, "They are thrilled. It's the most popular thing that we have in our warehouse. And then also when we're making deliveries to our agencies, we load up on produce and we take it to them and it's always very welcome."

Book says they've planted a small garden in their back yard and are encouraging others to garden and donate extra produce.

She says, "We need fresh produce, a lot of what we have donated today comes to us as packaged food. But what's really needed is fresh produce. We know that the people we serve are much more likely to be obese and diabetic. That goes hand in hand with poverty and food insecurity."

Book is thankful for the correctional facility crop, "I applaud the offenders that are working in the garden to feed others. And I think some of them knows first hand what food security, what it leads to."

Rowe says the food bank is important in his community, "Yeah, I've had relatives before that have got things and my pastor, he helps pass it out at different locations."

Book hopes growing food for food banks could expand to other locations around the state, "I think it's a good program, it could use some expansion."

Machin says the best thing about the program, aside from the produce they grow, is that they can help out those in need.

He says, "Just the feeling of what we've done, what we've produced and it's a good quality food and it's helping other people, poor people that can't, that are struggling."

The Food Bank of Iowa is one of six food banks in the state, Book says all food banks would be excited to get extra produce from other correctional facilities or community gardens.