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Ohio's Food Banks Surprised By Plan to Close Prison Farms

photo of Lisa Hamler-Fugitt

Ohio’s plan to close its prison farms could have an impact on the state’s food banks.

The announcement last week that the state would sell the farms to concentrate on other prisoner-rehabilitation programs was a surprise to Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. The head of the Ohio Association ofFoodbanks, says that’s because the farms have provided more than 800,000 pounds of vegetables to the state’s food banks since 2008. About 220 inmates work on the prison farms at peak-season, and Hamler-Fugitt says agriculture can still be a viable career for ex-offenders despite what prison officials cited last week as the reason for selling the farms.

“Food is grown by farmers, commodity producers, ranchers, livestock producers [and] we always need more workers in those industries. And agriculture is Ohio’s #1 industry.”

Hamler-Fugitt says the partnership has worked well for inmates and for the one-in-six Ohioans who rely on a food bank.

“We purchase all of the seeds, fertilizer, supplies, equipment, anything that they need for the inmates to plant not only vegetables but also cash-commodity crops.”

Hamler-Fugitt says she’s meeting with Department of Corrections officials this morning to stress the importance of the partnership with the foodbanks.

The state has about 12,500 acres of prison farmland, including nearly 3,000 acres in Lorain County and Warren County.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.