Prisoner Labor Used to Package Potatoes for Vermont Food Bank
Theresa Snow, executive director of Salvation Farms, a nonprofit organization that works to make use of farm surpluses, dreamed up the idea of using prisoner labor to sort and package potatoes that were too blemished for the market for use by the Vermont Foodbank. She teamed with the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) to make that dream come true. Now, eight prisoners from the minimum-security Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor work seven hours a day, four days a week cleaning, sorting and bagging potatoes.
The first task for the prisoners was 30,000 pounds of potatoes from a farm in Williamstown. The potatoes came to the packaging facility via Tuberville, a nonprofit food distributor. After processing, they were transported to the Vermont Foodbank by Black River Produce for a nominal fee.
Salvation Farms pays the DOC $15 to $30 per prisoner per day. The prisoners get a day off their sentences for each day they work.
The job is not easy, according to prisoner Matthew Mabe, 30, who works at the cleaning station.
"It's the dirtiest job, but I like it," said Mabe who prefers it to other prison jobs "because you know you are helping somebody out there." This is more rewarding than doing a job that just supports prison operations, Mabe stated.
According to Snow, Vermont farmers and food processors throw out two to three million pounds of produce in Vermont each year. To process more of it, the operation will have to expand to more types of produce and other places, including higher-security prisons.
"As we expand, it's going to be a little more staff intensive," said DOC commissioner Andy Pallito who mentioned complications, such as escape attempts, involved in sending trucks of produce in and out of medium security prisons.
Salvation Farms board member Amy Shollenberger said starting operations at a minimum-security prison wasn't easy either.
"A prison doesn't let you roll in with a bunch of loose soft things," said Shollenberger, referring to truckloads of potatoes. She said Susan Bartlett, a special assistant to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, was instrumental in overcoming those hurdles. "She was the magic that figured things out."
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