Produce from the prisoners

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As three people filled bags Thursday afternoon from plastic tubs filled with fresh produce lining the sidewalk east of the Good Shepherd Thrift Shop, one woman shouted words to a passerby guaranteed to soon add to the number.

“There’s corn today,” the woman yelled.

More correctly, the woman should have added the word “free.” The corn, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, carrots and squash in the tubs were available at no charge to all who arrived at the site.

“You should have been here at 2:30 (p.m.). There was a big crowd waiting,” J.W. Rutledge said.

The Leavenworth man makes the produce deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But he took no credit for his popularity on his arrival. That should go to the inmates at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary who grow the produce for free distribution in Tonganoxie as part of the prison’s Therapy and Mentor Horticulture program.

Tom Sheldrake, media-relations officer for the prison, said about 40 volunteer inmates grow the vegetables on 17 acres at the 450-bed minimum security camp at the prison at no cost to taxpayers.

The Leavenworth Lions Club donates the seeds for the garden and tools and equipment used are surplus federal property, Sheldrake said.

The produce is also grown organically. Sheldrake said the only fertilizer used is from vermicultures, bins in which worms produce compost and liquid fertilizer from food waste at the prison.

Rutledge said he got involved with the program when he responded to an advertisement last year seeking volunteers to deliver the produce. The produce is distributed in Tonganoxie and other area communities as well as to charitable organizations, he said.

He would continue the twice-weekly visits to Tonganoxie into October, although the types of produce would change as the growing season progressed, Rutledge said. He arrives at 2:30 p.m. and stays until 4 p.m. or until all the produce is gone.

Rutledge’s wife, Helen, rides with him to Tonganoxie, to document those picking up food. Numbers usually total in the mid-50s, she said.

She also provides recipes for the produce they bring. Helen had a zucchini mock apple pie recipe Thursday, which Sally Fromme, who was picking up squash and corn with her children Jinnele, 6, and Winston, 11, was eager to try.

“We’ve made the zucchini cake with the frosting and the brownies with the frosting,” she said. “My children and neighbors are loving it, so thank you very much.”

Among others picking up produce Thursday was Shaudel Bain, who saw the distribution site as she picked up her 4-year-old twins Ella and Ainsle from the United Methodist Church daycare. It was, she said, a good way to stretch the food budget.

“It’s a good thing to take advantage of, especially for fresh produce. We love fresh produce,” she said.



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