From Correspondent John Zarella; reposted from CNN archive, which had somehow lost part of the text and all the graphcs — MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Some novice farmers in central Florida have just brought in their first bumper crop. That's not necessarily unusual -- except that the farmers are inmates at the Seminole County Jail in Sanford, Florida.
Two months ago, the inmates began planting lettuce in 4,000 square foot recreation area converted to hydroponic farming - - farming without soil, usually in moist air, water or other non-soil medium. The Seminole County facility is the first hydroponic jail farm in the country -- and the inmates are doing all the work.
"A win-win situations for us because we train inmates in an industry that's expanding here in central Florida and throughout the country actually," said Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger.
The inmates are buying the idea.
"I never realized I had a green thumb," said Lindsey.
And fellow inmate Charlene said that learning hydroponic gardening is "something we can take with us when we leave."
The idea for the project came from a prison staff member who visited "The Land Exhibit" at Disney's Epcot Center. That exhibit features hydroponic gardening, which proponents believe is a more efficient way of growing food.
But the jail farm is not only a way to educate inmates, said Eslinger, but also a way to save dollars. Money from an inmates' welfare fund covered the start-up costs, and Eslinger said he believes the crops grown will save taxpayers $20,000 in the first year.
"We need probably another 6- or 8,000 square feet of crops to save $100,000 annually," he said.
And the inmates have already learned one of farming's most important lessons.
"I think it'll make it taste better 'cause I'm the one that grew it," said Mildred.
GOE Urban Farming is currently working with an inmate group in Washingrton to bring microgreens and other hydroponic gardening into the state prison system. The project is popular with inmates but has been delayed for an unknown period due to the Covid-19 pandemic.