Inmates start spring planting in East Texas Food Bank garden -, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Inmates start spring planting in East Texas Food Bank garden

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Spring is just around the corner, and Friday, inmates from the Smith County Jail planted the first seeds of the year in the East Texas Food Bank's garden.

The garden is a partnership that's now four years in the making.

Smith County inmates planted the first crops of the year - potatoes - in this four-acre garden.

"The important thing about this garden is it gives the connection between the community and the need for fresh produce, nutritious food for the East Texas Food Bank and our clients," said Dennis Cullinane, the executive director of the East Texas Food Bank.

The garden is a partnership between the Smith County Sheriff's Office, the Smith County Agricultural Extension Office and the East Texas Food Bank.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith says his administration continued the partnership because it's not only good for the food bank, it's also good for the inmates.

"It makes them feel like they're worth something by coming down here and doing this and participating and providing a service for the community," Smith said.

Over the last three years, the East Texas Food Bank has used the produce grown in this garden to serve more than 80,000 meals.

"We've produced over 111,000 pounds of fresh produce that's come into the food bank and been distributed to our agencies," said Cullinane. "We need to focus on the higher-nutrition content of our inventory and to try and teach and expose our clients to better choices."

But it's also a learning ground. Researchers from Prairie View A&M University are joining the Smith County Agricultural Extension Office to collect data on how ground worms affect crops like corn and tomatoes.

"We want to figure out which cover crop gets rid of all the worms or will cut back on your worms so you can have a better crop," said Ashley Pellerin, a Prairie View A&M Cooperative Extension Agent for Smith County. "For those who are small producers or big producers, a lot of the times that can be a big problem because they're commonly found in the ground."

Three agencies, working together to feed people in need all over East Texas.

The inmates planted potatoes Friday and will plant corn, tomatoes, squash, greens, and other vegetables throughout the spring.

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