AUGUST 29, 1996

TILLERY - Inmates at Caledonia Correctional Institution are growing and harvesting more fresh produce than ever this year and will soon be able to double the 12 prisons they provide food.

"This has been a kickoff year for us ," said Johnny Hassell, director of farming operations. "We've operated our cannery for years but this is the first year we've been so heavily involved in produce production."

More than 270 inmates are involved in all phases of the farming operation on this 7,200 acre farm. This includes everything from planting to harvesting and distribution. Just about everyday a delivery truck leaves the farm headed to other state prisons with food.

Like other farms, the one at Caledonia felt the effects of Hurricane Bertha. The storm blew down 35 acres of corn, making it difficult to harvest by machine. One hundred inmates were sent into the fields to pull the corn by hand.

So far this year, inmates dug 130 acres of white potatoes, picked 15 acres of squash, four acres of beets, two acres of cabbages, one and a half acres of green peppers, one acre of eggplants, 12 acres of broccoli, three and a half acres of cucumbers, two and a half acres of strawberries, four acres of tomatoes, three acres of watermelon and cantaloupe.

Inmates won't get much of a break between their summer and fall gardens. As part of the increased produce production, inmates will plant and grow 13 acres of collards, a new crop for the cooler months, and 85 acres of sweet potatoes.

"We may see as much as a 25-50 percent increase next year in our crop production," explained Hassell. By using inmates to grow and harvest crops on the farm, the department is able to better control food cost at the state's 93 prisons, saving taxpayers' money.

This is only the beginning of a major expansion. Within the next year, Correction Enterprise will have completed construction of a distribution warehouse.

"This 10,000 square foot building, located at the Caledonia Prison Farm, will allow for

refrigeration, packaging, and distribution of all fresh produce grown from the Odom and Caledonia work farms," said Hassell. "A special sweet potato storage room under construction will make it possible to grow a large volume of sweet potatoes and store them up to 12 months. This will keep inmates working with the sweet potatoes year-round rather than just the 30 days it takes to harvest the crop."

In addition to the warehouse at Caledonia, Dan River and Tyrrell prison work farms under construction will also have warehouses serving 22 prisons in their geographic region.

Order and shipping coordination among existing prison work farms and others under construction will be handled through a computer network.