Sunflowers growing at the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. Photo courtesy of Stacy Holland Berry of Dumas.

Traveling along U.S. 65 near the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Cummins and Varner units you can’t miss the sunflowers. There are 150 acres of the big showy flowers which are planted and harvested by prisoners and used in a feed formula for the ADC’s cattle raised at the Wrightsville Unit.

Farming is big business for the state’s prisons where agricultural division employees and inmates grow a range of field crops and vegetables to help meet ADC needs, according to ADC communications administrator Shae Wilson.

“The ADC grows everything from A to Z – asparagus to zucchini,” Wilson said.

Cummins, the largest and oldest prison farm in Arkansas, produces a wide variety of crops with support from the neighboring Varner Unit, which handles ADC vegetable processing.

The Wrightsville Unit has horses and cattle and the Tucker Unit grows row crops and vegetables. The East Arkansas Regional Unit at Brickeys grows row crops and the remaining units have their own satellite gardens of one to 100 acres.

With units at Benton, Pine Bluff, Grady, Dermott, Brickeys, Newport, Wrightsville, Tucker, Luxora, Calico Rock, Malvern and Texarkana, the ADC has about 30,000 acres planted. Some 22,000 acres are planted in field crops and vegetables while the remaining acres are grass, pasture and double cropped, according to Wilson.

While agricultural operations don’t meet all of ADC needs, they do generate a savings for the department.

Depending on the weather, crop yields and other factors, ADC realizes $300,000 to $2 million-plus in savings annually from what it produces and consumes. Cotton, soybeans, rice, wheat and milo, which are sold on the commodities market, are cash crops that help support farm operations, according to Wilson.

Aside from the benefits of having fresh food for inmates and saving on food costs, the agriculture program allows inmates to be trained in work habits and allows them to develop marketable skills in farming, animal husbandry and vegetable, meat and milk processing.

Inmates who complete a 60-day initial assessment and attain trusty status may participate in the agricultural program.