Feeding prisoners can cost big bucks. But Marion County has found a way to save taxpayers some money.
The Sheriff's Office has started four labor farms. One sits in the northwest corner of Baseline Road and Maricamp Road in Ocala.
The Ocala farm is 58 acres. Inmates provide the labor, while Marion deputies oversee daily operations.
"The inmate farm came about as a way of keeping the overall costs of inmate services down," said Sgt. David Hurst, who helps run the farm.
The farm provides enough food to last for months while also instilling work ethic in inmates.
"It's a seven-day-a-week operation," Hurst said. "It's year round."
The program was created in 2000. It cuts the cost of each inmate's meal to about 54 cents -- a third less than the price paid by some similar-sized jails.
It's all because of the beef, hogs, chickens and crops grown by about two dozen nonviolent offenders.
"We have cantaloupe, cucumber, squash, green beans, and we're growing a section of peanuts as well," Hurst said.
The crops are harvested, cleaned and prepared; some are cooked, others kept in one of the jail's freezers.
The food eventually ends up on inmates' and guards' plates. The program helps feed 1,500 people daily.
"We try to utilize everything that comes in from the farm," Lt. Richard Byrd said.
The Sheriff's Office has paired with the University of Florida. Inmates provide labor for their university's research facility in Citra that sits on 1,200 acres. Offenders work with the animals and harvest crops.
The Sheriff's Office also gives civic groups and community groups tours of the farm. Contact the Marion County Sheriff's Office for more information.