Cultivating more than a garden
Hopkins County jail inmates learn skills while growing a bounty of food
The Hopkins County jail sits on about 40 open acres that include a pond, a stand of trees, and outbuildings.
So starting a garden for the inmates in 2005 seemed natural, both to save money and help the prisoners. In 23 years with Hopkins County law enforcement, jailer Joe Blue has seen three generations of a family cycle through the jail. Blue wants prisoners to "leave Hopkins County with more skills than when they came in."
Skills developed in the garden can translate to real money for inmates when they get out. With the bonus of Master Gardener classes taught by Hopkins County Extension agent Andy Rideout, at least two inmates secured landscaping jobs upon release.
The jail's 1-3/4-acre garden grows tomatoes, zucchini, corn, peppers, melons, squash, and more, all used in the prison kitchen. In the past five years, the jail has saved more than $90,000 on fresh produce served in the 1,200 daily meals, even with a drought for several years. They also donate extra produce to a local senior citizens' center, the Salvation Army, and the Hopkins County food bank.
Hopkins County is just one of several Kentucky counties that have introduced gardening to the inmate population. Woodford, Greenup, Henderson, and Jessamine jails all have gardens. Harlan County inmates harvested 24 tons of potatoes from their garden in 2011, and more than 2,100 gallons of beans.
Last fall, Dr. John Strang, University of Kentucky Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, visited the Hopkins jail to assess what type of fruit trees would do well there. Blue reports inmates "planted 10 Enterprise hybrid and 10 Gold Rush hybrid apple trees to start our first jail orchard this spring."
Blue gave the cooks at the jail his mother's zucchini crisp recipe. Zucchini slices seasoned with lemon and spices are a ringer for apple crisp. He thought the jail kitchen could use the family recipe to move extra zucchini. "The inmates loved it," he says.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream.
4 C chopped zucchini, about 3 medium
1/3 C lemon juice
1/4 C plus 2 Tbsp sugar or brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (substitute pumpkin pie spice if desired)
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 C brown sugar, packed
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/3 C cold butter, cubed
Peel the zucchini. Slice in half lengthwise. Scrape out and discard seeds. Cut zucchini into thin slices that resemble an apple slice (sort of a crescent moon). Combine zucchini in a large saucepan with lemon juice, sugar, butter, spices, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and pour into a greased 8- by 8-inch baking pan.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine topping ingredients and cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over the zucchini. Bake 45 minutes or until bubbly and zucchini is tender. Serves 8.
Savory summer pasta
Recipe by Sarah Fritschner
2 lbs tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 C sweet onion, chopped
Up to 1/2 C fresh basil, chopped
1/3 C fresh parsley, chopped
6 green olives, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 C olive oil
1 lb pasta, such as spaghetti or penne
1 tsp salt
Combine first 10 ingredients in medium bowl. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add pasta and salt. Boil 1 minute less than package directions and taste. Pasta should be slightly firm. Drain well, put in a serving dish, and pour tomatoes over. Serves 8-10.