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California State Prison, Sacramento Inmate Garden Project Feeds Rescued Animals at Folsom Zoo

SACRAMENTO – Today inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC) will harvest their fifth crop to feed rescued animals at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary in a new partnership between the prison, the zoo and a local retail store in Folsom. To date, more than 400 pounds of vegetables have been harvested and fed to rescued animals.

During a meeting earlier this year at the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, SAC Warden Tim Virga, in a discussion with City of Folsom Parks and Recreation Director, Robert Goss, learned that Goss’ department, which manages the zoo, faced significant financial challenges because of the weak economy. Some city personnel have been laid off and city agencies were asked to reduce their expenditures.

Warden Virga thought of a way the prison could help. Minimum Support Facility inmates could grow vegetables on prison grounds to help reduce the city’s costs for feed for the animals at the zoo. The Folsom Zoo Inmate Garden Project was launched.

“This is an opportunity for the inmates to give something back to the community,” Warden Virga said, “and for the institution to be a good neighbor, especially during these tough economic times.”

“We are so impressed that our local prison officials are willing to engage in this community partnership,” said Goss. “We are hopeful this will be a long-term relationship.”

Approximately 280 Level I inmates at the prison are available for work assignments in areas such as landscaping, janitorial and building maintenance. The inmates who work in the Folsom Zoo Inmate Garden Project come from a weed abatement crew. The project saves funds for the city and there is no cost to the state. Inmates take pride in meaningful work that helps rescued animals in the community.

On July 23, representatives of the Zoo Sanctuary picked up the first two bushels of squash and peppers. Zoo officials pick up harvests every two weeks. Each harvest has averaged approximately 100 pounds of vegetables, including squash, peppers, cabbage, sunflower seeds and spinach.

The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary is home to wild animals and birds, including those injured, abandoned and not able to return to the wild. There are blue and double yellow amazons, macaws and golden eagles; tigers and cougars; and four bears named “Tahoe,” “Sequoia,” “Marty” and “Woody.” Marty had been shot in the hip and Tahoe’s mother had been injured and disappeared so the cub was left to fend for herself. Both were rescued by the zoo and have been friends ever since. They all love to eat.

After the idea for the Folsom Zoo Inmate Garden Project took place in January, SAC’s Community Resource Manager Marc Elia, in coordination with the zoo, compiled a wish list of the animals’ favorite food. The Wal-Mart Superstore in Folsom agreed to supply the institution with all the seed required for the project.

As it rained in March and April, it seemed as though Mother Nature would not cooperate, but institution landscaper Joseph Beck supervised inmates cultivating the seed in the institution’s greenhouse. As soon as the rains stopped an area was tilled and the crop was transplanted.

Many more treats continue to be harvested for the zoo’s birds, bears, tigers, and monkeys. Beck is already propagating a winter planting as the institution looks forward to making the project an ongoing endeavor.

A media photo opportunity will be held at 2:00 today to photograph this week’s harvest at California State Prison, Sacramento, Prison Road, Represa, California. Any members of the media wishing to attend should call Mike York, Public Information Officer, at (916) 294-3012.

For additional information on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, visit

For Immediate Release Contact: 
Peggy Bengs (916) 445-4950
Mike York (916) 294-3012