Renfrew County National Farmers Union cautiously happy about the prison farm news

WESTMEATH — The recent news article from the CBC stating Kingston’s cows are closer to coming home, is encouraging news to many supporters of the federal prison farm program that had been cancelled in Kingston, stated Tony Straathof, president of the Renfrew County National Farmers Union.

Five years ago, when the closure of the prison farm was first announced, the Renfrew County National Farmers Union (RCNFU), along with many local farmers, voiced its strong support for the century-old farm as a rehabilitation institution.

The general public knew that the farm prison offenders learned great skills, including problem solving and becoming confident in working on their own and with others, Mr. Straathof said.

To help save the prison farm, many farmers from this area travelled to Kingston for rallies and participated in rallies in Ottawa, said Dave Mackay, who was president of the RC NFU when the closure was announced and occurred. The local NFU, along with other locals throughout the province, wrote letters supporting keeping the prison farm operational, he added.

“Sadly, those efforts railed and the prison farm was shut down,” Mr. Mackay stated.

The Frontenac prison farm in Kingston was considered the best-run dairy farm in Canada with an award-wining herd that had been bred for docility over the past 100 years. In addition, the farm provided jobs for dozens of inmates and produced milk, eggs, meat and fresh vegetables for 15 area prisons as well as local food banks. Officials of the day said it even made a profit, recalled Mr. Straathof

When the herd of nearly 300 cows went up for auction, local organizers made up of farmers and local citizens formed the Pen Farm Co-op and bought 23 head of the prize-winning dairy cattle, in hopes that some day they would be returned to the Frontenac farm. Many celebrities and businesses put up the funds for the co-op to get started.

Recently, the Pen Farm Co-op released a statement saying it received a commitment from the federal government to re-open the prison farm operation in Kingston. The co-op, in its media release, said it has developed a business plan that has already received preliminary approval from the current government. The release added an email statement from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to CBC: “We understand the value of the prison and farm program and believe that such programs can be very helpful to promoting rehabilitation, empathy, skills training and ultimately, public safety. We will be evaluating the cost and the feasibility of re-opening the program.”

Mr. Straathof said, “The board of the co-op plans to meet government officials later this month to plot out plans to get the farm online. The 700-acre farm still remains in public hands.”

Diane Dowling of the Pen Farm Co-op, said it could take about $2 million to re-establish the prison farm. The co-op board believes some of the funding could come from money the previous federal government received when it sold off the cows and machinery.

NEWS EDITORS: Thank you for considering publishing this news release. If you have any questions regarding this release, please contact Tony Straathof, 613-587-4343 or email, strath@nrtco.net.