Brevard inmates save taxpayers thousands by growing food

- Brevard county inmates are saving taxpayers thousands of dollars. How? They grow a lot of what they eat.

The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office started a program in the 1980s to allow inmates to farm as an alternative sentence for prison time. Sheriff Wayne Ivey said the program has expanded over the years and it’s more successful now than ever.

“It’s become a great resource to try and mitigate cost to the taxpayer on food being used in the jail,” said Sheriff Wayne Ivey. “This crop that you see on the ground right now (as he points behind him) is about to yield somewhere between 35 to 40,000 pounds of potatoes.”

Sheriff Ivey said potatoes are their primary focus and largest commodity they use at the jail. Inmates grow all sorts of vegetables throughout the years from squash, okra, beets, green beans, radishes and lettuce to name a few.

The Brevard Sheriff Farm had a hydroponic greenhouse set up to grow lettuce. Sheriff Ivey said it would produce $7,000 worth of lettuce every year - until Hurricane Matthew destroyed it. 

They’re working to rebuild it now, using gutters they collected from landfills and other recyclable material, another way to save taxpayer money. In fact, the sheriff said having inmates grow their own food is saving taxpayers $50,000 to $60,000 annually.

“It’s really a win, win because not only are the inmates learning a trade, they’re able to give back because of the mistakes they’ve made and we’re saving taxpayers’ money, growing our own food, so really it’s a win, win all the way around,” stated the sheriff.

Micah Voldness is among one of the inmates getting a second chance. He’s serving a 50 day sentence at the Brevard County Farm instead of spending a month and half in prison for driving with a suspended license.

“It’s helped me stay out of jail and it’s helped me maintain my job and be able to do family activities and stuff I wouldn’t be able to do if I was incarcerated,” said Voldness.

Voldness told us he’s happy for programs like this, not only does he get to pick his own hours to serve his time but he gets to go home every day to see his family.

“I’m thankful that I don’t have to be locked up for a month and a half for a driving infraction, driving without a license and I’m able to benefit the community and do some stuff that’s beneficial for the jail as far as growing fruits and vegetables for them,” said Voldness.

The ultimate goal for the Brevard Sheriff’s Farm: sustain inmates on all the food they grow.

“Collectively when you look at what the chain gang does, what this labor force does, when you look at all the different projects we do throughout the county, somewhere around $1-million dollars in labor resources that are taken place because of this operation,” said Sheriff Ivey.

Right now, the Sheriff’s Farm is using 13 acres of land to plant vegetables. In the near future they want to move the entire farm operation closer to the jail.

The sheriff said there are 11 acres on the back side to grow potatoes and in the front he would like to put hydroponic grows like lettuce and beets. This will also increase their workforce because they’ll be able to use all the inmates not just a few with minor infractions.

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