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Innovative program is spicing up food

An innovative program is spicing up the food within TDCJ and sparking competition between units. “Herbs Behind Bars” is a collaboration between the department and Lee College where select offenders can learn marketable skills of designing, producing and maintaining herb gardens. Taxpayers also benefit by reducing food costs. In 2007, a kitchen captain in Dalhart wanted to add some flavor to the meals he was preparing, so he decided to plant a small herb garden on prison property. The idea took off and other facilities began replicating the idea. Fast forward a decade later and herb gardens are flourishing across the state. What’s also growing is friendly competition between facilities.

32 units entered this year’s contest and submitted portfolios detailing their herb gardens from start to finish. Texas Board of Criminal Justice member Patrick O’Daniel was in attendance at this year's award ceremony on November 17th.

Photo of judges sitting at the head table.

“This is really innovation at its best,” said O’Daniel. “This started with a great idea at one unit and spread from there. You should be very proud.” Judges with a background in business, horticulture, and gardening poured over the 32 portfolios that chronicle the beginning to end stages of growing herbs and using them in the kitchens.

Photo of portfolios created by offenders.

The 2017 "Herbs Behind Bars" winners are:

  • Newcomer of the Year – Wynne Unit

  • Small Category (0-1,100 population) – Honorable Mention – Woodman Unit; 3rd place Mountain View Unit; 2nd place Hilltop Unit; 1st place Havins Unit

  • Medium Category (1,101-2,000 population) – Honorable Mention – Luther Unit; 3rd place Wallace Unit; 2nd place Pack Unit; 1st place Dalhart Unit

  • Large Category (2,001 or more population) – Honorable Mention – Hughes Unit; 3rd place Ellis Unit; 2nd place Robertson Unit; 1st place Michael Unit

  • Grand Champion – Michael Unit

Photo of Michael Unit employees receiving "Herbs Behind Bars" 2017 award.