If you've been enjoying fresh okra at your favorite local restaurant lately you may have inmates at the Iberia Parish Jail to thank for it.
Just yards from their cells they are growing organic produce for themselves as well as other jails, restaurants and markets in the area. And their list of clients keeps growing. Okra is what is growing at the 50 acre organic farm at the Iberia Parish Jail right now, which head farmer Willis Jacob says usually comes in by the ton.
“I would say about eight to nine tons a year and pepper I would put about 11 to 12 tons a year.” said Jacob.
The plot of land behind the jail wasn't always bountiful. In fact it only started in 2008 when Sheriff Ackal revived it after taking office. Now five years later he says it has grown throughout the community.
“We've been out there marketing our farm products to different entities grocery stores, restaurants, produce stands, etc.” said Sheriff Ackal.
Popular restaurants like Landry's Seafood in New Iberia and produce stands like Fresh Pickin's in Lafayette he says are clamoring for it and so are the inmates who run the whole operation.
“Now we farm them the more vegetables we grow we started using more and now in the jail it's some of our food costs down.”
From planting to harvesting and packing these inmates do all the work. The parish inmates in this group will reduce their sentence by working these fields, but not department of corrections inmates. Still, one this reporter spoke to, says it's worthwhile.
“I learned how to drive a tractor. I learned when to plant, how to plant, when to pick, what kind of poisons to use on grass, you know how to process everything we do everything from picking it to processing it to shipping it off so.”
Sheriff Ackal says he is also working with the governor's office to start a vocational program for inmates in the parish.