Sky Meadows Pasture-to-Prison Cell Program is Profitable Prison Nutrition
by Guest Blogger, Susan Blasko
In an Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama, Sally Fallon Morrell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, challenged our country’s chief executive to focus attention on the cruel and unusual punishment that is taking place in Illinois state prisons. Many inmates have developed digestive disorders, and large numbers suffer from symptoms of low thyroid function (acne, hair loss, heart arrhythmias, frequent infections, depression, allergies, brain fog, fatigue, and constantly feeling cold).
The Open Letter recounts several cases of inmates receiving surgery for removal of a portion of the digestive tract to relieve severe pain, and one who received a pacemaker because he passes out every time he eats. These conditions are a result of the inmates’ new diet, which was implemented about 5 years ago. In case these symptoms don’t sound familiar to you, they are problems documented in the scientific literature from a diet high in soy. Vegetarians, beware!
That’s right, the Illinois Department of Corrections is now feeding a diet extremely high in soy to inmates of Illinois prisons. The reason? It’s more “cost-effective.”
So, let’s see, money saved on cheaper food equals lots more money spent on medical bills. I’m sorry, where’s the savings?
Contrast this with a Memorandum of Agreement between the White Post Facility of the Virginia Department of Corrections, and Sky Meadows State Park. Inmates at White Post are enlisted in animal husbandry at Sky Meadow to raise cattle for beef production. The program is a collaboration of several entities: USDA Farm Services (which implements a Conservation Plan), local Soil and Water Conservation Services (implementing a Nutrient Management Plan), and Virginia Tech (which performs studies on the health and nutrient content of the soil).
“My job is monitoring and managing the natural resources according to these programs,” says Park Manager, Tim Skinner. I make sure that when the grass gets down to about three inches, the herd is rotated to another pasture. We want to maintain the right ratio of cattle to acres based on the type and amount of forage and soil that exists here.”
Livestock raised by the prisoners is used as a staple on their menu at the prison. This saves the prison money on its food bill, and keeps the prisoners healthy. Furthermore, when they make the transition to life outside the prison, they have a skill that they can use in the real world. In addition, the inmates are fulfilling the park’s mission – to preserve the pasture.
Sky Meadow State Park was donated to the state of Virginia by Paul Mellon with the mandate of preserving the pastoral landscape. This is unusual among parks. Most parks have the mission of maintaining the “natural landscape,” which is forestation. Skinner said, “When people come here to visit the park, they say, ‘Oh, isn’t this beautiful! It’s so natural!’ and I have to tell them, there’s nothing natural about it.” He explained that what is being preserved is the symbiosis between humans and nature, which is the definition of farming. When the settlers came they cleared forests and grew grass to graze their animals. This is part of the evolution of humankind, and as such, may also be characterized as “natural.” “We have more diversity of habitat now than when the park was opened,” says Skinner.
According to Sally Fallon Morell, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “This successful Virginia program produces enough meat to feed Virginia inmates a nourishing diet, and the surplus is sold to the prison system in neighboring Pennsylvania. This is a wonderful nutrition and training program that we feel can be duplicated in prisons across the U.S.”
To see a beautiful video of the Sky Meadows State Park click here.
Susan Blasko is a cancer survivor twice over. She now incorporates local farm fresh foods into her diet in her on-going quest for health. Susan is a volunteer chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Falls Church, Virginia chapter, and an assistant organizer of the Northern Virginia Whole Foods Nutrition meetup group. She was selected at random to speak at the USDA Listening Session on NAIS (National Animal Idenification System) that took place in Harrisburg, PA earlier this year. Here is the complete text of her remarks in a previous post on Hartkeisonline.com.
As per usual, the photo illustrating this post is not the actual Sky Meadows park. It is for artistic purposes only! I would also like to nominate the Virginia prison system as Heroes of Sustainable Agriculture for this wonderful agricultural endeavor!