The Muskegon Correctional Facility’s Horticulture Program is once again flourishing with the start of the growing season, continuing its tradition of supporting the Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van™ with fresh produce. This year’s program, similar in scope to last year’s successful initiative, is already showing promise with exceptionally early blooms thanks to favorable weather conditions.

Last year, the program donated a remarkable 3,950 pounds of produce to the Muskegon YMCA, benefiting the community through the YMCA Veggie Van™. This year, the program maintains its participation with 15 incarcerated individuals gaining valuable skills in growing and fertilizing produce. The facility’s gardens, along with 66 personal gardens tended by inmates, are expected to yield an abundance of produce to be donated as well as consumed by program participants this year.

A significant development for the program is the construction of a new greenhouse. This addition will expand growing space and enable earlier seed starting, further enhancing the program’s output and efficiency.

The Muskegon Correctional Facility’s Horticulture Program, unique in the state of Michigan, empowers participants by involving them in decision-making about what to plant and fostering problem-solving skills throughout the growing process. Brad Dean, the Horticultural Trades Instructor, emphasizes the meaningful impact of the program and its partnerships: “Partnerships with organizations like the Muskegon YMCA give the produce a meaningful place to go, benefiting both the participants of the program and the local community.”

The program not only provides fresh, locally-grown produce to the Muskegon YMCA Veggie Van™, which serves as a year-round mobile farmers market, but also supports local food distribution organizations. In 2023, the Veggie Van™ received nearly 4,000 pounds out of the 12,875 pounds donated by the facility. The donations included a variety of produce such as tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, and cucumbers.

The Veggie Van™ plays a crucial role in increasing access to affordable, fresh produce for seniors and families living in low-food access neighborhoods in Muskegon County. Operating in a food desert, the Veggie Van™ makes weekly stops at senior centers and apartment complexes, ensuring that healthy food options are available to those who need them most. The support from the Horticulture Program significantly boosts the Veggie Van’s™ capacity to distribute nutritious produce throughout the county.

Amy Woodring, Veggie Van™ Lead, expresses deep gratitude for the partnership: “We’re endlessly grateful for our partnership with the Muskegon Correctional Facility. The produce is always of excellent quality, and our seniors appreciate the smaller quantities they can purchase to make single-serving meals. The generosity of the Horticulture Program allows us to keep our costs low, making it easier for Muskegon County residents to make healthy eating choices. Dean and those in his program are truly a blessing to this community.”For more information about the Veggie Van™ and to view its schedule, visit The Veggie Van™ is run in partnership with the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids.