The Local Food Report: an unlikely collaboration

Welcome to jail. We have a garden out back, a partnership with a nearby farm, and all the fresh, seasonal produce you can eat.

If this sounds like a fantasy—well—it's not. Not on Martha's Vineyard, at least. The inmates at the Dukes County House of Correction—that's the technical word for lock up when you're only there for a minor offense—have teamed up with the Edgartown-based Farm Institute to trade work for lettuce, tomatoes, and squash.

A crew of about 5 or 6 inmates shows up anywhere from 2 to 4 days a week. They get to work with hammers, shovels, and whatever gardening skills they've got, and pitch in with what needs to get done.

The program is one of several funded by a Perkins Grant, along with money from the U.S. Department of Education. If the inmates aren't into gardening, they can also get certified to work in a restaurant, or take classes in the culinary arts. There are other programs, too, for those who aren't interested in food—vocational training for trades like carpentry and construction, and other things like that.

But positions at the Farm Institute are some of the most coveted. The inmates jockey to get in—not just for the gastronomical benefits, but also because the work is outside, fresh. Some liked it so much, in fact, that last year around this time, the Farm Institute helped a group of inmates break ground at the House of Correction, to put in a garden there. They grew salad greens, radishes, tomatoes, peas, onions, and squash—combined with what they got from the Farm Institute, enough to eat something from their own yard just about every day.

The program is great for the Farm—their mission, after all, is to get the community to start thinking in terms of sustainability when it comes to food—and it has obvious benefits for the inmates, too. As one of the guys put it, it keeps them on their toes.

Though most things are shut down at the Farm for the season, there's almost always kale. Baked to a crisp—they call it "Krispy Kale—it's the perfect winter snack. Many thanks to their cooks for being willing to share


recipe courtesy of The Farm Institute

olive oil

reheat the oven to 475 degrees. Cut kale from stalk, rinse clean, and dry. Spread kale over a cookie sheet, and drizzle it with olive oil (or better yet, use an oil mister if you have one). Take care not to use too much oil, or the kale will get soggy rather than crispy. Season with salt to taste. Bake 10 minutes, watching it closely so it doesn't burn. The kale will be green and crispy when it's done; if it turns brown, it's baked too long.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.