The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is launching its latest initiative at the Farmers Market in Daley Plaza where they are selling pesticide-free produce and herbs grown at the Cook County Jail, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced.”I’m very happy to see this program expand into the farmers markets and also bringing gardens into communities which may lack local supermarkets that provide healthy and sanitary produce,” Sheriff Dart said.
The produce includes a variety of herbs and vegetables which are donated to food depositories and non-profit organizations throughout Cook County. It is also sold to various restaurants in the Chicagoland area including Charlie Trotter’s, Publican, Blackbird, Yusho, Avec and Moraine Valley Community College.
“We are ecstatic with the produce and it’s about as local as you can get,” said Publican Restaurant Chef Brian Huston. “It (the produce) stands up to anything that we get and we look forward to continue working with the program into the foreseeable future.”
Two garden program detainees are on-hand at the farmers market to assist with questions. Since inception over 600 inmates have tended the garden and 65 detainees have received a horticulture certification from the department’s program in 2012 alone. The department’s 12-week program includes classes such as soil and fertilizers, insects, vegetables, lawns, and herbs to name a few.
“It was a great experience for me and gave me a great appreciation of the Sheriff’s Department,” said Joe, a former detainee and recent graduate of the program. “I was honored for how much they’re willing to work with people and show me that you can make mistakes but they will forgive you and even give you a second chance at life.”
The department has several urban gardening programs including the PRC Garden and Apiary, in addition to Sheriff Dart’s Community Garden Initiatives such as the Roseland Community Garden. This garden is a joint project between the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and local community members in an effort to provide fresh and affordable produce to communities where often such food is scarce. Some of the produce to be harvested in Roseland includes beets, zucchini, squash and cabbage to name a few.
Mentioned above, as part of the Sheriff Dart’s Urban Garden Initiative was the Apiary. Currently there are 18 hives with upwards of 20,000 bees on the grounds of the jail with plans to double the number of hives for next year. This program, in coordination with Sweet Beginnings, allows 10 detainees to participate in eight, two-hour classes that teach individuals how to keep and manage Honeybee colonies. There are plans to bottle and sell the estimated 30 gallons of honey that are predicted to be made later this summer.