Inmates Debut Produce at Chicago Farmer's Market

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday began selling pesticide-free produce and herbs at the Famers Market in Daley Plaza

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    Cook County inmates are changing their colors from orange to green.

    The Cook County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday began selling pesticide-free produce and herbs at the Famers Market in Daley Plaza.

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    The produce, sprouted from a garden at the Cook County Jail, was grown and maintained by trained inmates as part Sheriff Thomas Dart’s "urban garden initiative."

    “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 in a statement.

    The 65,000-square-foot garden includes a 1,500-square-foot greenhouse and harvests between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds of produce in a summer season, Dart said. The products of the inmates’ gardening are donated to county food depositories and non-profit organizations.

    Chicago restaurants Charlie Trotter’s, Publican, Blackbird, Yusho and Avec also purchase the organic supplies.

    “We are ecstatic with the produce and it’s about as local as you can get,” said Publican chef Brian Huston in a statement. “[The produce] stands up to anything that we get.”

    The garden has been tended by over 600 inmates since its creation and 65 detainees received horticulture certificates in 2012 during a 12-week program offering classes on soil and fertilizers, insects, vegetables, lawns and herbs.

    Two of the inmates-turned-horticulturists will be on hand at the farmers market to help answer questions from buyers and onlookers.

    “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 Daley Plaza Farmer's Market is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays.