A group of Elkhart County leaders hope extra space in the jail kitchen can be used to help provide more fresh, local food for the county.
by Jeff Parrott in the Elkhart Truth, Aug. 22, 2014
An effort to bring more locally grown food to local tables year-round is gathering momentum and could receive a boost from jail inmates.
While stressing the idea is just in its infancy, Elkhart County Commissioner and farmer Mike Yoder, Sheriff Brad Rogers, Church Community Services executive director Rod Roberson and Middlebury Community Schools personnel director Delores Merrick say they have met recently to discuss the concept and are eager to pursue it further.
Church Community Services Seed to Feed co-cordinator Katie Jantzen arranges large quantities of vegetables that were made available as part of the CCS’ first Free Farmers Market for area food agencies in July. (Jennifer Shephard / The Elkhart Truth)
Each of the individuals likes the idea for their own reasons.
In a pilot project that could begin next year, fruits and vegetables grown in the area would be processed by Elkhart County Jail inmates in the facility’s large commercial-grade kitchen, which is underutilized because the facility was built to accommodate a much larger jail population than what currently exists. Inmates would process and package the produce, and it would be frozen at the jail until people in the community are ready to eat it.
Produce would be flash-frozen, a process that uses liquid nitrogen and preserves the cell structure and nutritional value of the food during freezing, while alleviating concerns of pathogen growth that can result from canning. Yoder said the ultimate goal is to buy a mobile flash-freezing unit, which can cost up to $70,000 and could perhaps be funded with tax-increment financing district revenue. But before that step, the jail’s conventional freezers would be used as the rest of the program kinks are worked out.