ECI inmates grow produce for Delmarva families, bridge food insecurity

Their work begins just after 8 a.m. each day.

Five or six men are assigned to tend to each of three gardens, where more than a dozen varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown.

There’s no irrigation system. The men do it all — from manually watering the crops to pulling weeds, as they work toward harvesting thousands of pounds in organic produce each year.

They take a break at about 1 p.m., then return to nurture the gardens until about 7 p.m.

Behind the walls of Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County, 16 inmates continue this labor seven days a week, even toiling through the winter months to ensure the soil is ready for planting come spring.

Their first harvest of the 2021 season weighed in at 764 pounds, which is believed to be the gardens’ largest yield yet for the start of a season. 

Inmates at Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County tend gardens on the prison grounds, growing thousands of pounds of organic produce each year that are given to local families.

The gardens’ spread of produce includes kale, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, yellow onions, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, zucchini and bell peppers.

“That’s beautiful,” officials exclaimed as they combed through boxes of fresh greens from the first harvest Thursday before piling them into the bed of a pickup truck.

Project director Sharon Lynch of the Somerset County Health Department explained that the boxes will be divvied up among roughly 20 community partners. From there, they will reach family tables in Somerset and Wicomico counties.

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