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This isn’t your garden-variety garden

For the past four years, the Carter County jail has planted a vegetable garden on Sycamore Shoals

James Matheson and Matt Hooper clear weeds from corn at the Carter County jail garden.

James Matheson and Matt Hooper clear weeds from corn at the Carter County jail garden.

Road that has supplemented the jail’s food budget.
Jail inmate work crews plant a variety of vegetables, including cabbage, corn, green beans, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. They tend the plants through the year and when the time comes, the vegetables are harvested and brought back to the jail where they are made into part of the inmates’ meals.
Garden lead supervisor John Huber said the garden produce was an exponential return on investment. For a budget of around $500, the garden produces thousands of dollars worth of vegetables.
“The first year, we produced around $5,000 of vegetables,” Huber said. “The second year, it was around $8,500. This year, it should be well into the double digits. It should be worth around $12,000 to $14,000.”
The garden is produced in two lots, one on each side of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter. The main garden is west of the shelter and is where most of the produce is grown. On the eastern side of the shelter is a smaller garden where mostly potatoes are grown.
“We harvest and use as much as we can immediately,” Huber said. “What we can’t use right away we freezer pack and use throughout the winter.”
The garden is located on a city lot destined for use as part of an expansion of the Elizabethton wastewater treatment plant sometime in the future. Until that time comes, the city and the county have an agreement that allows the jail to use the land to grow vegetables for inmates in the jail.
The garden doesn’t just supply the jail with extra food, Huber said it also helps teach the inmates on the work crews an additional skill that many did not have before they started working in the garden.
“It gets them out and it teaches them how to farm,” Huber said. “Some have never done this before. They know now how the food comes to the table. They do the work and the jail gets extra food out of the project. This project saves the taxpayers’ money. It really has been a win/win for everyone.”
Huber, along with other work crew supervisors Jason Blankenship and Wendell Treadway, bring the inmate crews to the garden early each morning. The crews work until around 8 a.m. before moving on to other assignments set for them during that day.
“It really works out well,” Huber said. “They can do the work here before it gets too hot to be out in the garden and then spend the rest of the day doing other things.”
The garden has also received grants from the Elizabethton/Carter County Community Foundation that helped pay for the irrigation system in the garden. The garden is watered from a natural spring and from Watauga River, which runs near the property.
Huber said the garden was almost a community project thanks to the donations that had been secured by jail staff for the garden.
Mills Greenhouse donated plants for the garden and Floyd Story donated equipment and some labor to help get the garden started.