After 10 long years of community protest, the prison farms at Collins Bay and Joyceville institutions are reopening — but not everyone is happy with the new business model.
Six Holstein cows, all with lineage to the original cattle removed in 2009, are currently grazing at Collins Bay Institution.
They were brought back to the penitentiary on Tuesday, with the Liberal government pledging $4.3 million to reinstate the farms that the previous Conservative government shut down.
Although the move was celebrated by many, especially those who fought to bring the cows back to the prisons, some, like Calvin Neufeld, worry the prison farms may not be focused on the well-being of the inmates or the animals they’re raising.
Neufeld, founder of the group Evolve our Prison Farms, was actually one of the protesters who fought for years to have the farms reinstated, but he feels that the new programs do not reflect the ones that were lost in 2009, where prisoners were producing milk they would drink themselves.
“Let prisoners produce their own food and donate surplus to the community,” Neufeld said. “This new model lacks that entirely.”
Chris Stein, CorCan Operations Manager, said they have decided to not to let the prisoner drink the milk they’re farming due to changes made at prisons across the country.
“The kitchens in the federal government have gone to a powered milk system. So for us to supply milk to one institution would provide a double standard to other institutions.”
Neufeld also worries that the farms will exploit cheap labour in order to export milk to outside markets.
“All of this prime agricultural land and the animals used purportedly used for therapeutic purposes are all going to be producing, essentially, a pipeline for external markets and foreign markets, in fact.”
While there have been rumours about prison farms supplying the new Canada Royal Milk infant formula company, run by Chinese company Feihe, Corrections Canada says no outside contracts have been finalized.
Stein says the point of the program is to teach inmates transferable skills.
“Our goal and our mandate is to train these individuals in employment skills and train them for the labour market,” Stein said.
In the end, the federal government has announced that about 2,000 goats and only about 90 cows will be part of the prison program, and Canada Royal Milk will be focusing on production of goat milk products.
“Hailing the return of a handful of dairy and beef cows is a distraction from a highly problematic prison farm model that will not produce food for prisoners and will set a new and dangerous precedent for the use of prison labour in Canada,” Neufeld said.
Stein says the farms at both institutions will employ about 50 inmates at a time, and that those prisoners will continue to produce vegetables for community organizations like Kingston’s Food Bank and will start providing produce to Loving Spoonful.
The plan is to expand the vegetable garden and to have both the Joyceville and Collins Bay farms fully operational by the fall.
— With files from Alexandra Mazur.
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