Iowa Correctional Institutions Cost Savings through On-site Production of Vegetables

Patrick O'Malley, commercial horticulture field specialist


Most of the vegetables used to feed Iowa inmates must be bought from outside sources. Due to budget constraints, most of the vegetables purchased are canned, which are generally nutritionally inferior to frozen or the more expensive fresh vegetables.


ISU Extension Horticulture Field Specialists in Eastern and Western Iowa have conducted on-site consultations, workshops, and training through Master Gardener Programs to help increase and improve vegetable production efficiencies of the correctional facilities.


Fresh vegetables are grown on-site. Taste and nutritional content are superior to canned or frozen vegetables. Fresh vegetables are well known to contain more antioxidants and phytochemicals, thus making inmates less prone to health problems and saving taxpayers health care costs. Additional benefits are the more benevolent nature of an inmate after consuming fresh watermelon or muskmelon or sweet corn. None of which would normally be purchased by the prison food service. It is difficult to extrapolate hard figures, but in general the experience of growing vegetables and positively contributing to the prison community, the more healthy and tasty food all lead toward a more stable and less stressful prison atmosphere, thus alleviating some of the intense pressures for both the guards and the inmates.

One prison in the system that has hard figures is Oakdale located near Iowa City. In 2003 they produced over 140,000 lbs. in vegetables on less than 12 acres. This represents nearly a doubling of yield from five years ago. At an average of $.70/lb that would translate to $100,000 of value. Less than $ 10,000 in prisoner pay, supplies, and equipment was expended to produce this yield. About six other prisons across the state are similarly involved in growing produce and have used ISU Extension to help increase yields and quality of produce.


Page last updated: July 8, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,