Gardening may not often be associated with prison.

Gardening may not often be associated with prison.

But, a community service garden program at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth yielded more than 85,000 pounds of produce last year. The program is on track to yield between 150,000 and 160,000 pounds this year, said Keith Thomas, education specialist at the federal prison.

He said the produce is donated to local food banks.

Thomas discussed the program Thursday during a meeting of USP's Community Relations Board.

The board, which includes various local government and business officials, meets four times a year.

The produce being grown this year at the prison includes sweet corn, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, peppers, squash, watermelon, cabbage and lettuce.

"We have a lot of different things," Thomas said.

He said the prison has a greenhouse that can accommodate 10,000 seedlings.

He said the there are 24 acres for the field operations of the garden program. He said the land is part farm field that was used when the prison was a self-sufficient institution.

Thomas said many of the inmates who participate in the program previously had never worked in a garden or on a farm.

He said they like working in the garden.

"It helps their heart," he said. "It helps their mind."

Thomas said the inmates feel as though they are giving back.

He said prison officials try to compost all of the yard waste around USP.

He said the prison can use the compost for the soil in the garden.

The prison also uses a vermicomposting process which involves feeding kitchen scraps to worms. Thomas said this creates vermicast, or worm manure, which is a good soil supplement.

He said the USP uses red wiggler worms for the vermicomposting process.

"They can eat their weight in food every day," he said.

Thomas said the prison also catches rainwater that comes off rooftops into tanks. The water is used for the garden.

In times when there is no rain, the prison can draw water from three farm ponds to use in the garden.

In the future, Thomas said he would like for USP to implement a seed bank. He also would like for inmates to receive certification for working in the program.

Local banker Brian Habjan said he works on the community arm of the prison produce program.

"We do run this as a zero cost to the institution," he said.

He said about $3,000 is raised for the program each year.

He said the program can always use equipment such as hoes and shovels that people no longer need and are looking to get rid of.