How do you feed a jail full of inmates without breaking the county's budget?
To Sheriff Darrell Young one partial answer is "grow a garden."
"When you feed so many inmates you have to find some way of cutting costs," Young said.
And who does the work?
The inmates supervised by jail staff at the overcrowded facility, which was built 20 years ago to hold 43 prisoners. Now it usually averages 60 inmates. The female side of the jail is particularly crowded with one cell that was designed to hold only eight people.
On Tuesday (Oct. 9), a baker's dozen of female inmates were out of their cell and busy harvesting turnip greens.
The female inmates were picking and cleaning the greens while the guys slowly cooked them in a black, iron kettle over an open fire. Once cooked, the greens were packaged for one of the sheriff's department's freezers, which are loaded with a summer season's fill of vegetables.
Fixing greens for the jail's population takes time with a bushel basket of the bright green, fresh leaves cooking down to just part of a serving.
A morning's work resulted in only two gallon freezer bags of turnip greens. It's a slow process, laughed chief cook Martha Francis. "It takes a lot to feed this crew."
"We are fortunate to have Miss Martha here cooking for us. This jail feeds the best food," said one female inmate.
Another said while she doesn't eat greens she does enjoy being outside in the fall sun picking them.
The production of the jail's gardens has Sheriff Young looking for more storage space.
"We need someone to donate another freezer," Young said. A small ante room at the jail already houses six upright freezes while a large chest freezer occupies another building at the facility. The freezers are nearly full.
Donated goods are another way Young helps ease his budget. "Those were donated today," he said pointing to a row of file cabinets outside drying in the sun. "We cleaned them up before moving them inside."
Lunch on Tuesday came mostly from the garden with okra, pinto beans and macaroni on the menu along with a slice of moist spice cake.
The quality of the food was much superior to the baloney sandwiches served at other area jails for lunch. It was also less expensive, Sheriff Young said.
Meanwhile, the jail gardens continue to produce.
"We'll soon have turnips at 2 ½ or 3 inches in diameter and ready to harvest," he said. "And others like cabbage like the cool weather."
For those looking to make donations (like a freezer) to the sheriff's department, they can call 563-1000.