St. Joseph prison tree farm benefits inmates and community

Monday, September 10, 2001

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- A tree farm run by the state prison here gives inmates a chance to be outdoors and conservation officials a learning tool.

It also gives the community more trees.

The eight-acre farm at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph has been around for four years. The farm supplies trees to communities throughout northwest Missouri.

"Traditionally, the conservation department has promoted tree planting, but it has been difficult to get good tree stock of a sufficient size for communities to plant," said Lonnie Messbarger, a resource forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "Raising trees for four years or longer solves that problem."

The prison raises more than 3,700 trees in cooperation with the city of St. Joseph and the state departments of conservation and natural resources.

The current crop includes a wide variety of trees: green ash, burr oak, red buds, dogwoods, white ash, white oak, black gum, bald cypress, short leaf pine, hard maples, Japanese birch, buckeye, hackberry, poplar and Australian pine.

Also a school lab

Several times a year, the tree farm also becomes a lab school for the conservation department. The department brings forestry students to the prison tree farm as part of their training, said Bill Eidson, associate superintendent for maintenance.

The tree farm is labor intensive. Three inmates and a maintenance supervisor work full-time taking care of their charges.

For the inmates, working on the farm is an attractive job that gets them outside the security fence, Eidson said.

The department screens these inmates, and Eidson said it shows in their work effort and the fact that there has been no trouble with them.

The prison harvests trees several times each year.

"When you see them start out as small seedlings and grow, the job can become rather personal," said tree farm supervisor Carol Underwood.

Additional inmates can volunteer to harvest trees and earn restorative justice credit.

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