by David Cecelski
Today I was on US 61, 15 miles east of Greensboro, when I saw a hand-scrawled sign for a plant sale by the side of the road. The sign pointed to the right. I made a quick turn onto County Farm Road, drove about a mile, and stopped in front of a cow pasture. I had found the plant sale at the Guilford County Sheriff’s Prison Farm.
Originally established in 1935 to house black inmates, the prison farm covers 806 acres of rolling hill country. It’s the only county-operated prison farm in the state. There’s grazing land, crop fields, gardens, orchards, and a half-dozen big greenhouses.
I parked under a black walnut tree and walked over to the greenhouses, which I discovered are open for retail sales to the public 7 days a week. At the little retail shop, a guard welcomed me to the prison farm. He told me what was growing in each of the greenhouses, then left me to explore them on my own.
The prison farm’s inmates sell something like 100,000 bedding plants every spring. They grow flowering perennials, groundcovers, and ferns, but also lots of culinary herbs and vegetables—more than a dozen varieties of tomatoes alone. Many had just sprouted and were only two or three inches high, but they all looked sturdy and well cared for.
While I was in the greenhouses, orange-clad inmates watered plants and hauled soil. They were helpful and solicitous, answering my questions about the plants if they could and asking their supervisor if they couldn’t.
Beyond the greenhouse complex, other inmates tended cattle. On a hill across the road, several other inmates were setting posts and training vines, building the prison farm’s first vineyard. (The plan, as I understand it, is to make grape jelly, not wine.)
It was a lovely day to visit the prison farm and I hoped that the prisoners enjoyed watching things grow and breathing in the fresh air as much as I did. I left with a tray of basil, cayenne peppers, and red cabbage for my garden, a butterfly bush for my wife’s garden, and a rose-colored begonia for my mother.
The Guilford County Sheriff’s Prison Farm is located at 7315 Howerton Road, Elon College. For directions, check out the sheriff office’s website athttp://www.