DeFuniak farm grows more than greens for its farmhands

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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Take a drive down a little country road in DeFuniak Springs and you'll find a focused grower with his eyes to the ground.

"You always wanna start where that leaf is," said Perry Cosson, plucking a leaf. "So that when he runs through with fertilizer they'll sprout back up in a full leaf."

Within these rows, the weather can be reasonable and the greens are seasonal. But the uniforms are required.

"Well I guess the stripes do give away a few things." Cosson said.

Cosson is an inmate at the Walton County Jail. Under Deputy Frank Araneo's watch and guidance, he participates in a work group on the farm at the jail.

Cosson has been incarcerated since May.

"This right here is turnips and then the rutabagas are there to the right," said Deputy Araneo.

Cosson and several other inmates are stooping low to fill emptied potato sacks with leafy greens.

"Yeah I told Mr. Araneo, you know, picking corn is like turning the door knob," he laughed, bending over, "This is like shining the shoes."

Cosson and his fellow inmates are learning skills in agriculture, irrigation and even how to operate the farm tractor. The jail has several acres at its disposal.

Deputy Araneo said produce the inmates cultivate and process can feed the jail and is a money saver for taxpayers. On a good month, it'll shave $800 to $1,000 off the food bill.

"We usually plant around 2,000 pounds of potatoes," he said.

Araneo said they've added another seven acres to the plot and may eventually add a chicken coop. All of the inmates are first vetted - no dangerous criminals allowed. Before they get their hands dirty, they'll take classes through the University of Florida's agriculture extension office.

But what carries just as much weight here on the farm, is the potential found just below the surface.

"They want to change," Araneo said. "That's a reward in itself."

Cosson said seeing things come to life in the dirt is a good feeling.

"I guess it's like you finally worked for something, you know," he said. "Friend of mine told me something that you earn fast gets spent fast. And it's just a back to the basics type of thing."

Cosson knows a good sprout when he sees one and makes sure the inmates at his dinner table know what's on their plate.

"I say to the guys, you know, 'you're welcome!" he laughs.

But in these rows, he's also got his hands full cultivating pride.

"I wasn't employed before I got here and it just removed a feeling of uselessness," he said. "It made me realize I can always have a purpose and do something."