Prison Labor Bringing Gleaned Crops To Food Shelves

Sep 20, 2013

Salvation Farms got its start, back in 2005, in the Lamoille County town of Wolcott.  Founder Theresa Snow rallied volunteers to help her salvage excess and imperfect produce from local farms. She then turned the fresh food over to places like local food shelves, schools, and senior centers.

Since then, Salvation Farms has been forging partnerships to help glean as much food as possible from Vermont farms and distribute it locally. But some agricultural business actually have more surplus fresh food than local organizations can use.

The small town of Wolcott, for example, is home to one large producer. High Mowing Organic Seeds grows many of its own seed crops. And a percentage of every crop is good food, that’s not so good at producing seeds.

By partnering with the Vermont Department of Corrections to have prison inmates help out, Salvation Farms has found a way to pick, clean, sort and package this produce. It’s then distributed statewide through the Vermont Foodbank.

The morning after the first frost kissed High Mowing Seeds’ fields of winter squash, Theresa Snow met a crew of ten inmates from the St. Johnsbury Correctional Facility. In just two mornings, the crew picked about 65-hundred pounds of winter squash. The next stop for the squash will be the Southeast State Correctional Facility.

“This is the first incarcerated crew in the State of Vermont ever to help glean, coming out of Caledonia,” said Snow. “And then we’re using the men within the Windsor facility, the Southeast State Facility, that can’t leave the fence, to help us inside that facility to clean and pack.”

Snow explained that prisoners in Windsor will sort and clean the squash, and pack it up for distribution. She added, “So anything that we question it’s ripeness, if it’s cracked or bruised, if it’s missing a stem, we probably will keep that product out of the case pack. And most of that food we will donate directly to the prison’s kitchen. So the inmates will at least be able to benefit from the food that we can’t send out to the charitable food system.”

Al Cormier is Superintendent of the St. Johnsbury Correctional Facility. He says Salvation Farms is a good fit for the work camp.

“We have about six crews that go out each day, so we work with several nonprofits in the region,” said Cormier. “From painting buildings, to construction, picking trash for the state – doing all kinds of stuff. This is what we do. This is how we get these guys out there to repair harm to the communities where they’ve committed their crimes. This is part of their sentence.”

Mark Badie is an inmate on the St. Johnsbury work crew. He’s originally from New York City, but now calls Rutland County home. He says he likes learning new skills with the work crew.

“It actually makes the day go by faster,” said Badie. “You learn different work trades, ethics, and stuff like that to use when we all reintegrate back into society.”

Badie said he could see himself doing farm work for a living.

“I would love to do this,” said Badie. “I would actually love to do this on the outside.”

And in Windsor, inmates are gaining a different kind of food-service experience as they get the food ready for distribution. Snow says Salvation Farms is now raising money to renovate its space at the prison, and expand the operation in time for next year’s harvest.