Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today that the Cook County Jail’s urban garden has its first bulk buyer of produce: Chicago-based restaurant Sopraffina.
Sopraffina, which has five downtown Chicago locations, specializes in Italian food made from locally raised and sustainable produce. The restaurant will purchase, in bulk, jail-grown Roma tomatoes, basil, kale, beets, butternut squash, zucchini squash, yellow squash, green peppers, red peppers, and cucumbers.
“I am proud to see the continual growth of the garden program,” Sheriff Dart said. “The Cook County Jail urban garden provides a chance for our detainees to learn new skills to help them succeed in life outside of jail. I look forward to creating partnerships with more restaurants so they can take advantage of the fresh, organic produce grown here, and at the same time, help give some a second chance at life.”
Chicago restaurants Yusho, The Publican, Blackbird, and Avec also purchase produce from the jail garden.
“We are just thrilled to be a part of Sheriff Dart’s urban garden program at the Cook County Jail,” said Dan Rosenthal, president of the Rosenthal Group, which operates Sopraffina and two other restaurants. “Our guests get top quality produce from an organic local garden just 4 miles from our restaurant. We buy the produce at fair market value, and the money gets literally plowed back into the program to expand it and make it better. You just can’t find a better example of a public/private relationship where there’s no tax burden, no bureaucracy, and everyone’s a winner!”
For 20 years, the Cook County Jail garden has been tended by detainees, who are taught gardening skills in the classroom and out on the field. As the program has expanded to include sales to restaurants and the Daley Center Plaza Farmer’s Market, participating detainees also learn business skills such as sales and marketing.
More than 1,500 detainees have participated in the garden program since its inception in 1993.
Cook County Jail Garden Facts
The garden’s best seller is beets. Approximately 40 pounds of the root vegetable is sold a week. In 2012, more than 25,000 pounds of produce was grown at the garden.
The Garden grows pesticide-free produce including:
The garden started as a 600 square-foot plot in 1993 at the Pre-Release Center. It has since grown to 60,000 square-feet and includes plots at Cook County Jail Divisions 1 and 11.
Another half-acre garden is located at the Sheriff’s Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center.
The garden has a 1,500 square-foot greenhouse that facilitates year-round growing.
Roma tomatoes are the newest garden crop. They were planted for the first time this year.
Profits from the produce sales go to the inmate welfare fund, which pays for detainee programming, including the garden.