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Volunteers needed for unique jail gardening program in Dunn County

Huber Law inmates at the Dunn County Jail work with volunteers to grow produce and fruit that is donated to the Stepping Stones food pantry and homeless shelter in Menomonie. The program needs volunteers to help with the harvesting. Contributed photo

MENOMONIE, Wis. -- For the last 13 years, Huber Law inmates at the Dunn County jail have been tending a garden behind the jail that has yielded produce and fruit. That bounty, in turn, has been donated to the local Stepping Stones food pantry and homeless shelter to benefit those in need.

“We give thousands of pounds of produce to Stepping Stones every year,” said Heather Pyka, Dunn County Jail program director. “We even have fruit trees out there.”

Donations from the jail garden are “very important” additions to the food supply that Stepping Stones can offer through its food pantry, said Padraig Gallagher, Stepping Stones executive director. “It is timely and high quality.”

The donations from the jail garden nicely complement a two-year-old program called Farmers Feed Dunn County, which encourages farmers in the county to donate a share of their crops to Stepping Stones, Gallagher added.

At this time of year, when the jail garden needs to be harvested, there is a tremendous need for additional volunteers to work with the inmates to pick and deliver the produce, officials said.

“We don't have enough volunteers to keep up with the abundance of veggies that need to be picked,” Pyka said. “We would hate for anything to go to waste.”

Duties for the volunteers include weeding, cultivating, treating for pests, and transporting the produce to Stepping Stones, she said.

About 10 work-release inmates usually sign up for the garden work, Pyka said, and two or three usually will work at one time. The participants in the garden program genuinely like it, she added.

“They are hands-on from the get-go,” Pyka said. “They enjoy getting their hands in the dirt. The ability to see something from start to finish is rewarding.”

The inmates also learn valuable skills that they can use after their sentences are completed, Pyka added.

In 2022, Huber inmates worked 124 hours in the garden, according to the Jail Community Garden 2022 annual report. Volunteers spent 149 hours in the garden, which yielded just shy of 3,800 pounds of produce. All seeds and plants were donated.

Crops included tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, squash and melons, as well as beans and onions.

Pyka said the Dunn County Jail Garden was one of the first in Wisconsin and remains “fairly unusual” across the state.

Before the pandemic, she said, the program included having chickens. Pyka said she hopes that the chickens will return in the near future.

Those wishing to volunteer should contact Pyka at or (715) 231-2942.

Media release from Dunn County.

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