In a highly unusual collaboration, inmates at a correctional facility south of Boise and an insurance company have teamed up to feed the hungry in Idaho. Farmers Insurance Group is providing the materials and inmates are providing the labor to grow several acres of produce that are expected to benefit the Idaho Food Bank.
Jefferey Ray, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), said that Farmers Insurance district manager Malcolm "Trey" Klauss came up with the idea for the garden. Klauss decided that instead of donating smaller amounts of actual food to the food bank, his company would utilize inmate labor to turn seed into a larger supply of fresh produce.
According to Ray, in the past the department used inmate labor to grow food to supply prisons with food, but modern farming practices producing cheaper food nixed the practice. IDOC director Brett Reinke expressed excitement over the partnership. "Because of the generous support of Farmers Insurance, we're able to get back into the farming business," Reinke said. "This project costs the taxpayers virtually nothing and will benefit the Idaho Food Bank and the inmates themselves." Idaho Food Bank CEO Karen Vauk also praised the effort. "It's exciting to see this project coming together so quickly," Vauk said.
Those in charge of the project believe inmates will produce two acres of potatoes, three acres of green beans, and one acre of carrots and other mixed veggies. Ray told IdahoReporter.com in an e-mail that though inmates are working outside the perimeter of their facility, there is little risk of escape. "They are all minimum security inmates who are under constant supervision while they are working outside the perimeter of the facility," Ray said.
Due to the struggling economy, the food bank says it has experienced two waves of difficulties making it harder to provide food the hungry around the state: fewer donations as families and businesses tighten their budgets to endure the recession, and large increases in the number of families applying for food assistance.