PILOT GROVE—A program highlighting Missouri agriculture is reaching out to provide instruction to incarcerated individuals who want to better their lives.

Jean Lake, with the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, said the Mid-America Food Hub and Training Center in Pilot Grove opened a year and a half ago. Lake volunteers her time alongside Executive Director Sue Baird.

The hub is an aggregate for 25 local farmers, and it sells meat and produce at a wholesale level. Baird noted that this summer the hub opened a retail store for the public and a breakfast and lunch kitchen. Meals are prepared using locally grown meats and produce.

Lake noted she acts in an advisory capacity for the food hub.

“I volunteer on the weekends to help out the farmers … on my off hours that’s what I come in here for,” she noted. “More than anything, this has been a real pet project for the state of Missouri. We continue to find the need for the farmers to find a place to market their goods.”

Lake added that helping others through the Hub is Baird’s “passion.” Together the women implemented a pilot program in southeast Missouri for inmates to work on farms.

“That’s how Sue and I met,” Lake said. “I had spent about two and half years trying to get that program together. One day we were talking, and she said that had been her passion. From that point on, we made it move very quickly.”

Working through the Missouri Department of Corrections and the Division of Workforce Development, Baird and Lake set up two 12-week pilot programs with Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston at Amanzi Farms in Sikeston. The program recently completed its first year of internships and now plans to branch out to the Boonville Department of Corrections and the Chillicothe Department of Corrections.

The women said they will implement the pilot programs for Boonville and Chillicothe in the spring of 2019. The Chillicothe program will center on local meat production while the Boonville program will focus on the use of the Pilot Grove food hub’s hydroponics.

Lake said the Missouri Department of Agriculture is now interested in the program.

“They are all coming to the table asking what they can do to be a partner in making it long term,” Lake said.

Both women noted that the program is “life-changing” for inmates.

“A lot of them have never planted anything and seen it grow,” Lake said.

“I hear that from all of them; they say, ‘This has just absolutely changed my life,’” Baird added.

“You know when we connect with nature it inherently has to change us one way or the other. When we begin to understand the connection of labor and seeing the end result, that’s one of the things that maybe these men have never seen.

“Many of them have come from solid concrete areas,” Baird explained. “They don’t understand that there is a time for all seasons. You plant the seed, you nurture that plant when it comes up, and then you have fruits. They have never seen that connection with labor to see a positive end result.”

The program also teaches a “work ethic” and prepares them for release from prison, Baird said.

“The second they are released, I connect them with farmers wherever they are going to,” Lake noted. “I find out a release date and I start working with the local farmers in that area and we find them employment.”

“I think that’s the biggest thing that has come out of this program, they have actually learned to work,” Baird said. “They have learned the joy of work.”

For more information on the Mid-America Food Hub and Training Center, 103 Harris St., in Pilot Grove, visit the website at mid-america-food-hub.myshopify.com or the Facebook page or call 660-834-3066.


Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Faith Bemiss is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat, covering general assignment, arts, food and entertainment stories. She can be reached at 660-530-0289.

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