A partnership between the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) and the Muskegon YMCA has provided the local community with over 4,600 pounds of fresh produce since 2019. Through the Horticulture Program at the MCF, incarcerated people gain hands-on experience with gardening, while all produce that is grown gets donated weekly to local organizations working to increase food access, one of which being the Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van, operated in conjunction with Grand Rapids YMCA.
The Horticulture Program at the MCF is led by Brad Dean, Horticultural Specialist and Head of Garden Programs. Incarcerated people who take part in the vocational education program have the opportunity to work with Dean in the half-acre garden while also learning how to raise and harvest produce. There are typically 12-15 participants per class, all of whom are involved in vegetable production from early spring to late fall. The program helps incarcerated people build valuable life skills as they learn to grow their own food while also receiving education in produce production, which can lead to opportunities for careers in the agricultural industry.
“The inmates in the program gain skills in growing and caring for flowers and vegetables, while being able to beautify their living environment,” but it is also “a way to give back to those in need in the local community,” claims Dean.
The Horticulture Program helps the Muskegon community as the produce that is grown gets donated to local food distribution organizations, such as the Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van. As of 2022, the program has donated 4,698 pounds of fresh produce to the Veggie Van. The Veggie Van increases access to affordable, fresh, local produce for seniors and families living in low-food access neighborhoods in Muskegon County. Operating in a food desert, access is limited to fresh local produce. Coupled with inadequate transportation, many Muskegon area seniors struggle to make healthy choices when it comes to food and nutrition. The YMCA Veggie Van acts as a year-round mobile farmers market as it makes weekly stops to community centers, workplaces, senior centers and apartment complexes in low-food access neighborhoods to distribute fresh, low-cost produce. The donations from the Horticulture Program at the MCF offer a huge support to the Veggie Van, ultimately increasing the amount of produce the Y is able to distribute throughout Muskegon County.