Basehor, Linwood and Tonganoxie groups give back through Prison Garden Project

Brian Habjan, community coordinator for the Prison Garden Project, helps some Linwood residents as they look at tomatoes and zucchini grown at the United State Penitentiary in Leavenworth. Enlarge photo

July 30, 2014

One day per week in Linwood, Tonganoxie and Basehor, residents have the pick of free farm produce at a not-so-typical farmers market.

Corn, cabbage, tomatoes and zucchini grown at the Unites State penitentiary in Leavenworth fill bins under the Linwood Lions Club shelter every Tuesday at Linwood City Park from 6 to 7 p.m. Everything at these markets is free under an agreement with the penitentiary.

"We get a lot of the same people coming every week," said Darren Koester, a Linwood Lions Club member. "It's a great little way to give back to the community."

The Prison Garden Project is coordinated by Brian Habjan. Habjan said minimum security inmates serving less than five-year sentences are afforded time to farm the crops on 20 acres of land at the penitentiary.

"It gives them the ability to give something back while they're serving time," Habjan said. "They get a sense of accomplishment and learn something new."

The Linwood Lions Club, along with Basehor-Linwood Assistance Services and the Good Shepherd Thrift Shop in Tonganoxie all distribute the fruits of the inmates' labor. The crops are picked up at the penitentiary by volunteer drivers and distributed on Tuesdays in Linwood and Thursdays in Basehor. The program runs June through October.

Habjan said the program's goal is to give away 160,000 pounds of food this year. So far, 50,000 pounds have been given away. Last year, 11,000 people in Leavenworth County received food through the program, Habjan said.

There are no restrictions on who can collect the food, Habjan said. However, Habjan does ask customers to provide their names so that he can see how many people are receiving the food. The groups like BLAS and the Linwood Lions Club also place a donation box next to their sign-in sheets that allows them to donate money for farming tools.

Koester said that Linwood has been working with the prison garden project for three years and recently donated rain barrels through funds raised by the Linwood Lions Club to the penitentiary farm because the inmates are not able to use city water.

"We also use the donations for provide them seeds and other tools," Koester said.

Among the other crops grown at the penitentiary are watermelons and cantaloupes.

Habjan said the penitentiary has been able to help area communities after natural disasters such as the Joplin tornado by providing watermelons and other crops to volunteers helping the city.

For more information about the distribution of the food, contact the Linwood Lions Club or BLAS.

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