A Connection to the Outside: Hyde Inmates Grow Food for the Community

Nestled next to Lake Mattamuskeet, there is a garden that produces so much more than food. It provides skills, pride and a connection to the outside world, for both the people growing and receiving its fruits. As part of the Beaufort County Community College’s horticulture program at Hyde Correctional Institute, inmates grow fruits and vegetables which then make their way around Hyde County through a network of support that has helped improve the lives of inmates and the community at large.

The medium/minimum security facility has capacity for over 700 inmates and from its opening in 1997 has a had a relationship with BCCC. Currently, inmates can take part in two programs— a high school equivalency program and the horticultural program— through instructors Johnny Tripp and Darwin Woolard. While the program gives them skills they can use later to obtain jobs, it also gives them a chance to focus on something positive.

“After release, they can work in landscaping and horticulture,” said Justin Rose, director of occupation extension at BCCC. “One of the graduates of the program now works at a nursery in Raleigh.”

Thanks to Brooks Sumberg, who donates $300 in seed a year, the garden contains local varieties like snow peas and carrots, but more also warmer climate trees like lemons and bananas. The horticultural program has already grown 300 pounds of food this year and expects to double that by the end of 2018.

Sumberg started working with prisons six years ago in his home state of Connecticut. He started with churches, but soon found that prisons were a better way to go. Three years ago, he started donating seed to six prisons across North Carolina. Across the country his one-man operation is now working with 130 prisons.

“They are there every day and able to devote the time necessary,” said Sumberg. “They enjoy the work, and they really appreciate that they are giving back to the community.” He has been involved in community projects throughout his life, starting with his time in the Peace Corps. Since then, he has stayed committed to volunteering and donating to charities.

Beverly Paul, director of Hyde County Transit helps distribute the produce to sites such as the Mattamuskeet Senior Center and Mattamuskeet Village, a low-income senior housing complex, and other people across the county.

“This project compliments our goal to keep our elderly population as healthy as possible so they may remain in their homes,” said Paul. “Our seniors have not only enjoyed the fresh vegetables, but the thought they have not been forgotten.”

About 35 individuals have received food aid through the collaboration. That connection, that need to be acknowledged, extends like tendrils from outside the fence of Hyde Correctional to those gardening within.

With 30 who graduated from the program this summer, and an additional five students who finished their high school equivalency, the tendrils of this garden have spread throughout the county, wrapping firmly around and directly connecting the lives it has touched.