ONLY ON FOX: Inside the inmate work farm in Marion County

When you drive along state roads 464 and 36 in Marion County, you’ll notice something peeking up through the hillside.  “Pride,” explains Marion County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Mike Joyner. “We take pride in what we do out here.”

In the Central Florida sun, the cucumbers on this farm, are ripe for the picking, but the people working that Ocala farm wear clothes of a different color.

Misty DeWalt, an inmate working the farm said, “Oh yes, it sure does beat being in the jail.”

The patch of land is the Marion County jail’s inmate work farm, Joyner said. “The inmates are actually growing and caring for the very vegetables and fruit they will receive on a tray for dinner or supper.”

DeWalt, 31, is one of more than a dozen inmates that work the 58-acre farm.  DeWalt said “I prayed for this, to come out here. Because, I like being outside. It feels like a privilege. A blessing.”

A blessing, harvesting vegetables today, she says will help her tomorrow.  DeWalt added, “It shows structure. Something that I definitely need for the outside.”

Inside this farm, a lot goes on and not a thing is wasted. Started in 1998, the farm teaches inmates basic, real job skills.

Captain. Clint Bowen, Asst. Bureau Chief of Corrections with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said “Part of that vision to promote the inmate program to better the inmates, by learning basic job skills.”

Captain Bowen said inmates don’t get paid. Instead, for every 30 days they’re in jail, if they work, they get 5 days cut off their sentence.  

Everything at the farm grown to help feed inmates, raising cows, harvesting fresh vegetables.  They harvest eggs twice a day, and tend to the chickens in coops.  They even raise hogs that’ll eventually go to the kitchen.

The work is done in partnership with the University of Florida. Captain Clint Bowen and Sgt. Joyner said, last fiscal year, the sustainable farms saved Marion taxpayers over $1.1 million.  The food raised and grown is turned into meals in the jail’s kitchen. “It tastes good!”  Joyner said with a big smile.

Decades of sustainable food from the farm to the table.  

Sgt. Joyner said there is interest in the farm from other sheriff’s offices in Florida. He told us the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office visited Ocala last year to look at the farm.