Inmates harvest 35,000 pounds of produce grown on site

The Green Bay Correctional Institution's two-and-a-half acre farm provides produce for the prison's 1,000 inmates.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — As daily traffic along Webster Avenue zips by the Green Bay Correctional Institution, on the other side of the formidable walls and armed towers of the maximum-security prison in Allouez grows a garden.

A massive vegetable garden that helps to feed the 1,091 inmates housed there.

Last year, inmates harvested a whopping 35,083 pounds of produce from crops that sit on 2½ of the facility's 29-acre grounds. Nine thousand pounds of that tally were donated to Paul's Pantry, and all the rest was used on site by food service, which is in charge of preparing three meals daily.

The gardens aren't new to the facility's green space, but they have expanded considerably in recent years.

"The gardens have just grown enormously, not just here, but across the state,'' said GBCI Warden Brian Foster. "Some institutions have acres of gardens. It's been such a good addition to our food service. It's unbelievable, and then the ability to be able to give to the food pantries as well.''

Just as home gardeners have discovered, growing your own food keeps grocery costs down. When tomatoes and cucumbers are in peak picking season, GBCI can save $400 to $500 a week on its food bill, said Dave Brooks, food service manager for the past two years and 18 years with the institution. That's significant savings when you're trying to meet a goal of a $1.06-per-meal cost, Foster said.

"It's always good to save money with tight budgets,'' Foster said. "Our budgets have not increased for our food service a great deal to match the increase in food costs, so the gardens have become more and more important every year to try and balance that shortage.''

Brooks uses as much of the produce — tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, green beans, onions, beets, squash, radishes — as he can fresh in a menu that is dictated by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. That often means adding produce to soups and other dishes, but food service is allowed to make two changes weekly from the standard menu. That allows Brooks to do things like a vegetable dish with fresh zucchini.

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