New program will allow local farm producers to provide food for jail, others


Thanks to a new program here in Switzerland County, inmates and staff of the new Switzerland County jail are being fed locally raised meat products — with the promise of developing more partnerships in the coming months.

“It’s one of the first real partnerships that I’ve ever seen,” John Keeton of the “Ways to Grow and Beyond” program said. “This has all been made possible through the work of a lot of individuals, and I think it’s really going to be a great thing for county farmers and county businesses.”

The program, which is being coordinated by a group called the Jennings County Growers Cooperative, is the result of some hard work on the part of many individuals and entities — work that included getting some state laws changed in order to make the program a reality.

Through the program, businesses and governmental entities can purchase locally-grown meat and produce and use it in meals that are being produced in those businesses. The food has to pass through certain state-authorized channels in order to be certified — but it is the first step in what could be big business for local farmers.

The program began here with a hog being purchased from the hog operation of local farmers Mike and Larry Thieman. That hog was taken by the Jennings County Growers Cooperative to the Westport Locker in Westport, Indiana for processing; and on Tuesday, December 13th, the process pig arrived ready to be put in the freezer of the kitchen at the Switzerland County jail.

The pig had to be processed at the Westport Locker because it has to meet all Indiana State Standards for institutional meat consumption. The locker has state approval to sell meat products throughout Indiana, and has undergone special state inspections. Because the Jennings County Cooperative is state-recognized, it served as the go-between to make this plan a reality.

The Jennings County Growers Cooperative has been working hard to make this program a reality not only here but in counties and communities all over Southeastern Indiana. The tireless work of cooperative president Richard Adrian and vice president Bud Beasley led to the state changing its policies and allowing the beginning of this program, which is already successful in several Jennings County institutions as well as surrounding areas.

Groups using the program currently include Saint Vincent Hospital in North Vernon; the Jennings County jail; restaurants in North Vernon; and the South Ripley School Corporation.

The Switzerland County jail is the first step into this community, but with the success of the Farmers Market, there may also be other avenues as Spring approaches.

“This could be just the tip of other activities that might take place here in this community that would involve our local farmers and our vegetable and fruit producers at the Farmers Market,” John Keeton said. “Other potential consumers and users of this program could be our healthcare facilities, Belterra, and our school system.”

The program is a true partnership, blending the expertise of several area units to create a common outcome.

Initial monies to develop the Jennings County Growers Cooperative came through Historic Hoosier Hills, RC&D and coordinator Terry Stephenson. Once the cooperative was operational, representatives attended a meeting of the directors of Switzerland County Farm Bureau to explain their proposal for use here.

Vickie Althoff, who is a member of the Farm Bureau board of directors, took the plan to County Sheriff Nathan Hughes, who worked with Vickie Althoff and the Cooperative to facilitate the processing of the meat and delivery to the jail.

The “Ways to Grow and Beyond” program, a new program through Purdue University, coordinated all of those activities in terms of putting one group with another. John Keeton administers that program.

“The main objective that we are trying to achieve is to have things grown here in Switzerland County and consumed here in Switzerland County,” John Keeton said. “The process took about three weeks from presentation to the hog being in the freezer at the jail, because we had to make sure that the state guidelines with the processing plant would apply here and in this institutional setting.”

The Switzerland County jail has the freezer capacity to hold three to five hogs at a time; and there is the possibility that beef could also be a part of the program in the near future.

“When you look at the jail, 40-50 inmates can consume a lot of meat products, eating three meals a day, seven days a week,” John Keeton said. “That’s money staying in the pockets of local farmers.”

As warmer weather comes to the county in the spring, John Keeton said that plans are being made to establish a local “vehicle” that would meet state standards so that vegetables and fruits can be purchased at the Farmers Market and used at the jail and other facilities.

Historic Hoosier Hills has received $200,000 to develop institutional markets in this part of the state, so there is some excitement surrounding this first attempt and providing local food for local business.

“If we can get local farmers to grow things with a developed market, then this can really take off,” John Keeton said. “One person will have to serve as the ‘clearing house’ for the vegetables and fruits, then local farmers could sell them wholesale. I believe that the local Farmers Market could develop the process needed to purchase vegetables and fruits grown here for local consumption.”

John Keeton said that there are several positive factors with this program.

Nutritionally, John Keeton said that testing has shown locally grown vegetables and fruits to have four times the nutritional value of vegetables and fruits that are purchased through businesses; so participating in this program can actually be healthier for those consuming the foods.

Economically, Sheriff Hughes believes that his office can save 50- to 80-cents per pound on meat by going with this method; and he is looking forward to increasing the jail’s participation in the program.

“The sheriff believes that if you can keep and feed the inmates well, many of them will appreciate what you’re trying to do for them, and are easier to control,” John Keeton said.

Jon Bond, executive director of the Switzerland County Economic Development Corporation, is also very supportive of the program, and believes that the plan has tremendous potential. He will work with the program through his office as his services are needed.

The Switzerland County Commissioners and County Council are also very supportive of the program.

“It’s a win, win, win situation,” Sheriff Nathan Hughes said. “We can save money on meat purchases for the jail, and we can help out the farmers in this county, too. I think everybody wins.”

“This is something that has become a reality because it’s made up of a lot of individuals who are working together,” John Keeton said. “There is a lot of potential for this program to grow here for everyone’s benefit in the future.”

Anyone who has questions about the program as to how they can participate in it in the future should get in touch with John Keeton at 812-525-2483, or email him at

— Pat Lanman