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Caledonia Prison Inmates Grow Their Own Food

NC Department of Public Safety

Halifax County’s Caledonia Correctional Institution continues to produce thousands of pounds of crops as the years go by. Lee Jenkins has more on the self- sufficient prison farm and the impact it’s had on the community.

The institution began as a state prison farm, in the early 1890’s. Over the years, it’s expanded from a handful of wooden shacks on flooded farmland to a full-blown medium security prison complex with its own cannery. The institution’s never forgotten its roots, however – farming is still a central part of the goings-on around the prison. As well as raising livestock, the prison boasts an impressive variety of crops. Prison Enterprises Director Phillip Sikes:

“We grow several crops that we can here to feed to the inmate population. We grow collards, turnips, sweet corn, depending on need squash and sweet potatoes, soybeans, field corn, and we grow the day lilies for the department of transportation.”

Most of the food grown on the 5,500 acre farm is preserved at the prison’s cannery and distributed to other prisons throughout the state. On average, inmates can almost six million pounds of staple crops corn, turnips, and collards per year. Other vegetables vary by acreage.

“They drive tractors, plant, harvest. Anything any farmer on the outside would do.”

Farmers work in eight hour shifts and are paid anything between thirteen and twenty six cents an hour. According to Sikes, raises and promotions are treated like they are outside of the prison.

“It’s based on their work ethic. It’s really run just as any job there is. Somebody that deserves it will be moved up after they prove themselves for thirty days; I think it is, before you can give the step-up.”

Being a prison, there are some key differences. Lunch breaks tend to last longer, as the prisoners have to be accounted for and properly secured prior to returning to the field. They’re also always accompanied by one of eight staff overseers.

“Each supervisor will have a ten-to-fifteen man crew doing a specific project. So, they’re out there if they’re handpicking squash or planting soybeans. The inmates will be out there and the supervisor will be there in the field with them.”

Occasionally, the prison will have a surplus harvest. When that happens, the food is donated to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. Over the past five years, the prison has donated over two million pounds of food for needy and hungry people. Just this week, they sent in a shipment of sweet corn. Coordinator of Marketing and Public Affairs Jennifer Caslin says the prison’s contributions are invaluable.

“250,000 to 500,000 extra pounds a year is a lot of extra meals that are going out to people, and if we didn’t have that, those extra meals would be missing, obviously, for those people. So, it’s very important.”

120 of the over 500 prisoners work on the farm at any given time. Those that do are housed in a special cell block, more relaxed than the standard ones. During the off-season, they cultivate vegetables in one of the prison’s greenhouses. Pictures of the prison and farm can be found online at Public Radio East dot O-R-G. I’m Lee Jenkins.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.