Gardening program at Muskegon Correctional Facility provides produce to those in need

What’s happening: An innovative partnership between the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) and the Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van has increased access to fresh, locally grown produce for Muskegon County residents.

How it works: MCF has a horticulture program that gives incarcerated individuals the opportunity to gain skills in raising, fertilizing, and harvesting produce. A portion of the produce is donated weekly to local organizations working to increase food access, including the Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van.

How does it happen: The program is one of two remaining horticulture programs within the Michigan Department of Corrections. Incarcerated individuals who take part in the vocational education program have the opportunity to work in several large garden areas.
The Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van distributes the produce from MCF.

Who’s involved: There are typically around 15 participants per class, with two class blocks each day. All participants are involved in vegetable production from early spring to late fall. The program helps incarcerated individuals build valuable life skills as they learn to grow their own food while also receiving education in produce production and pesticides, which can lead to careers in the agricultural and horticultural industries. The program also provides participants with a sense of purpose, as they tend to a garden plot, house plant, or work to beautify the facility’s landscape.

What they are saying: “The inmates in the program gain skills in growing and caring for flowers and vegetables, while being able to beautify their living environment,” but it is also “a way to give back to those in need in the local community,” says Brad Dean, the horticultural trades Instructor who leads the program. 

MCF's horticulture program gives incarcerated individuals the opportunity to gain skills in growing produce.

What’s the impact: In 2023, the horticulture program donated a total of 12,875 pounds of produce, with almost 4,000 going to the Veggie Van. Donations included tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, and more. 

How it works: The YMCA Veggie Van is a year-round mobile farmers market. It distributes  fresh, low-cost produce in weekly stops to community centers, workplaces, senior centers, and apartment complexes in neighborhoods with low access to healthy food. It’s especially helpful  for area seniors who, because of a lack of transportation, often struggle to make healthy choices when it comes to food and nutrition. 

Making a difference: “We’re endlessly grateful for our partnership with the Muskegon Correctional Facility,” says Amy Woodring, Veggie Van lead at the Muskegon Y. “The produce is always of excellent quality, and our seniors appreciate the smaller quantities they can purchase to make single-serving meals. 

“The generosity of the horticulture program allows us to keep our costs low, making it easier for Muskegon County residents to make healthy eating choices. Dean and those in his program are truly a blessing to this community, and it goes to show that even if you are incarcerated you are still able to do good in this world.”

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