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SPANISH FORK, Utah (AP) -- The corn and peas are peaking through the soil, and Utah County Jail officials are hoping for another bumper crop.
Last year, inmates grew 12 tons of produce on 21/2 acres of county-owned property between the jail and the county's animal shelter.
This year, they're farming three acres.
The goals of the garden program, started last year, are to help the needy and provide a majority of the fruit and vegetables eaten by inmates during the growing season.
This year, jail officials are hoping for more fruit and vegetables to save money on the facility's food budget, and more produce to donate.
"We really hope to expand, to give more food to food coalitions within the county on a regular basis," said Dennis Harris, director of the Jail Industries Program.
Last year's crop provided $22,000 in savings to the jail's kitchen costs and in donations to area food banks.
Harris said it's a lot better to have inmates working rather than sitting in jail 24 hours a day.
"It costs $61 per day to house an inmate. When you have them out working and paying for their room and board -- that is huge," he said.
The garden also serves as a research project for the Utah State University Extension Service.
The Extension Service will do more research on how different varieties of plants react to the climate and salt levels in the soil this year, said Adrian Hinton, USU Extension horticulturist. Last year it was just trying to make sure plants grew.
Hinton said planting should be completed in about 10 days. This year's crop will include different varieties of corn, cucumbers and watermelon, in addition to the other fruits and vegetables grown in the garden.
"We're trying to be as organic as possible," he said. "Last year we added a little fertilizer. We added some compost this year."
Inmates have set traps for gophers -- two have been caught -- and will need to do night patrols to scare away pheasants, raccoons and skunks, Hinton said.
The garden also will have three beehives for pollination, and Hinton will teach bee classes to inmates during the summer.
Harris hopes to add more to the garden every year, and eventually he wants to get a grant to buy five more acres nearby.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)