More than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce from prison gardens has been donated to Missouri food pantries. The Corrections Director says it’s a way for inmates to give back to the public they’ve burdoned … and the inmates agree.

Inmate Paul Baumgardner stands in the expansive garden at the Jefferson City Correctional Facility.

Director George Lombardi it offers offenders a chance to show compassion for others, and he says for some, that’s a first.

“Its the bigger picture of teaching inmates about giving back to communities in which they’ve transgressed over time … We always saw this as an opportuniy to teach compassion and rehabilitation and to set a more humane atmosphere here where people can get some kind of esteem, in some cases which they’ve never had before in their lives, in giving to others,” Lombardi says. “The getting is in the giving, in some cases, they’ve never ever given and have only taken things.”

Inmate Lee King (left) got into the program at the urging of Baumgardner (right), who is the lead inmate on the project.

Inmate Lee King says he gets a good feeling from giving back, but there are other obvious benefits: getting outside for fresh air and sunshine, digging in the dirt, and just helping pass the time. King joined the program on the reference of Paul Baumgardner, another long-term inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, who prides himself of being the inmate leader of the garden project. 

Baumgardner carries a well-worn newspaper clipping of a needy woman and her kids getting fresh watermelon grown by prisoners. That’s the inspiration, he says, to do what is sometimes back-breaking work.

A smaller garden grows each summer at the Algoa Correctional Facility, a prison that comprises mostly non-violent offenders and sits adjacent to JCCC, a maximum security facility.

“I’m pushing 300 pounds,” he laughs, “and it’s hard work. It’s 110 degrees out there and it’s not easy. Guys ask to see this picture all the time. It helps to see what you’re trying to accomplish right there in black and white, you know.”

Baumgardner says he’s thinking all the time of ways to make the prison garden bigger and better. He’s serving a life sentence, but is up for parole in a few years. He says he wants to take his gardening experience from the inside and reach out to the inner cities on the outside, helping to start community gardens.

Almost every facility in the state has a prison garden that donates squash, peppers, tomatoes and the like to food pantries. The facility producing the most vegetables this year is Missouri Western, in Cameron, where inmates grew, and gave away, 23,000 pounds of produce. (See the individual break-down of how much each facility produced at the bottom of this page.)

There are other Restorative Justice programs inmates participate in, all focusing on the same philosophy of giving back. Some provide hand-made blankets and pillows to natural disaster victims, mental health patients and those in hospice care. Others train puppies taken in by animal shelters so they can be adopted out — themselves getting a pass on a death sentence — and, in situations like this summer, fill sandbags in areas compromised by flooding.

Another project had inmates make cotton tubes — from donated fabric — and fill them with silocone beads. The “cool ties,” as they’re called, were then donated to tornado victims in Joplin, so residents could soak them in water, refrigerate them and then drape them over their necks to keep them cool while working on demolition and debris removal. “Fidget quilts” are handcrafted with special beadwork on the corners for alzheimer’s patients who often tend toward repetitive motion and like to have something to manipulate with their fingers.

Lombardi is quick to point out that all of these programs run on donated goods and operate at zero cost to taxpayers.

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports [Mp3, 1:30 min.]

AUDIO: Machetta interviews King and Baumgardner [12:31 min.]

AUDIO: Machetta interviews Director Lombardi [Mp3, 11:20 min.]


Weekly Total of Pounds Donated

(Sept. 26-30, 2011)

Total Number of Pounds Donated for 2011


* Algoa Correctional Center

34 lbs

858 lbs

* Boonville Correctional Center

99 lbs

1032.35 lbs

ChillicotheCorrectional Center

472.15 lbs

4068.81 lbs

Cremer Therapeutic Community Center

6.8 lbs

105.4 lbs

* Crossroads Correctional Center


215 lbs

Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center

2.1 lbs

100.25 lbs

FarmingtonCorrectional Center

2272 lbs

18,478 lbs

* FultonReception & DiagnosticCenter


1024.4 lbs

Jefferson CityCorrectional Center


16436 lbs




MissouriEastern Correctional Center


75.25 lbs

Moberly Correctional Center

220 lbs

4828 lbs plus 6984 tomato plants

Northeast Correctional Center

618 lbs

6543.5 lbs

Ozark Correctional Center

106 lbs

1467 lbs

*PotosiCorrectional Center


1644 lbs

South Central Correctional Center

10.2 lbs

568.68 lbs

Southeast Correctional Center

22 lbs

8498 lbs




Western MissouriCorrectional Center

4367 lbs

23,008 lbs

Western Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center

92 lbs

6847 lbs

Women’s Eastern Reception,Diagnostic & CorrectionalCenter

131 lbs

1711.1 lbs




*St. JosephCommunitySupervisionCenter


371 lbs



2481.35 lbs



100 lbs

Grand Total


100,461.09 lbs plus 6984 tomato plants

*  Garden is done for the year.