GRADY, Ark. (KTHV) -- It's one of the biggest agri-businesses in the state of Arkansas. But the people running it don't get paid a dime. It's the Arkansas Department of Correction Agriculture Division and it's teaching people from all over the nation.
The National Association of Institutional Agribusiness brought its conference to Arkansas this week to learn from it.
The Arkansas Department of Correction Agriculture Division includes about 21,500 acres in farming production.
The Cummins Unit outside Grady makes up the prison system's largest farm at 17,000-plus acres.
The farm is used for row crops (corn, cotton, rice, white, soybeans etc.), vegetable production, horticulture, poultry, swine, dairy, beef, cattle, horse, aquaculture, meat slaughtering and processing, milk processing, packaging and vegetable processing, canning and freezing.
"A lot of people don't realize that almost every state has some type of agriculture in their prison system," says Jail Agriculture Administrator Mark McCown says.
In fact, the National Association of Institutional Agribusiness is in Central Arkansas this week looking at prison farms just like the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County.
It's the first time the group has come to Arkansas. The NAIA visited many of the Department of Corrections units looking at ways they can better their institutional farms.
"We do a lot of things going on here from the row crops to the dairy cows. We have a milk processing plant, a slaughter house, vegetable processing plant. We can and freeze fruits and vegetables and we feed everything we make," McCown says. "But we do sell our row crops to gain revenue."
McCown says the farm made almost $6 million last year from the sale of row crops like corn, cotton, wheat and soybean. "That money goes right back into the farm. It's used for equipment, fertilizer and seed that goes right back into the ground," McCown adds.
The crops leave the taxpayer here in Arkansas with absolutely no cost. "It pays for its self and we get fresh produce and meat, you can't beat that at all," Carlos Keck a prisoner at the unit says.
"Not only do the prisoners get food from the farm, they get a skill that they can use when they get out of here," McCown says.
The Department of Correction also has apple groves in north Arkansas, pecan groves in the south and even the largest horse farm in the state.
Those Correctional farms not only serve the prisoners food, but they also give inmates a useful skill to help them in the real world. McCown says, "We are teaching a inmate a skill, we're teaching them a work ethic. We've been able to give them something when they get out from being incarirated to get back on the street and get a good job."
McCown says they help some prisoners with job placement after their time is up too.