Its been a while since we had a Friday Foodie post, so without further adieu…
It was a big job keeping the inmates at Wyoming’s institutions fed during the lean years of the Great Depression. Nearly every state institution had a farm operation in the 1930s. This allowed them to be nearly self-sufficient. Some even turned a profit on the food and forage they produced. They used the cheap and abundant inmate labor to reduce production costs. The symbiosis benefited the inmates by teaching them a trade and building their confidence and sense of responsibility. These photos and accompanying information come from a state institutional survey photo album complied by the state in 1932. Several copies are on file in the Wyoming State Archives collection.
The Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston was the crown jewel of the productive institutions during the early 1930s. In an effort to provide affordable, quality food for the institution, a dairy herd was established in 1922.
By 1930, this herd of registered Holstein cattle had grown to 41 cows whose anticipated production for the year would top 600,000 pounds of milk (approximately 75,000 gallons.) Not only did this supply the hospital with its entire dairy needs, it provided an income from the sale of surplus dairy goods and animals, which helped to defer other costs. The herd was regarded as one of the best in the Inter-mountain region. One of thier prize bulls was loaned to the University of Wyoming’s Stock Farm at Afton to help improve its Holstein herd.
In addition to the cattle herd, the State Hospital also kept a large flock of chickens to provide all of the eggs and meat served at the hospital. A large garden plot behind the superintendent’s residence supplied all of the vegetables used by the institution. The grain and hay fed to the animals was produced on the 550 acre farm purchased in 1919.
In 1929-30, the farm produced:
Hay 880 tons
Grain 8879 bushels
Rutabagas 225 tons
Cabbage 61 tons
Potatoes 9,000 bushels
Milk 884, 000 pounds (about 110,500 gallons)
Eggs 10,500 dozen
Meat 117,000 pounds
Extensive gardens and large fields of sugar beets for livestock forage were also planted and the boys were employed in a small, on-site cannery where they preserved the bounty for use over the winter. This institution in particular saw their farm and livestock operations as tools to teach their wards, boys ages 16-25, life skills and a useful trade.
All told, sale from the excess products equaled $86,700 for the 1928-1930 biennium, more than $1.1 million dollars today! In fact it was so productive that little more than building funds and partial wages were needed from the State budget to run the entire institution by 1930, amounting to just $54,150 that year. If you account for inflation, that would be approximately $700,000 today.
The Girl’s Industrial Institute (now called the Girl’s School) in Sheridan, was a newcomer to the State, having been establish in 1920. Still, by 1931 almost all of the dairy, chicken and eggs, and many of the vegetables consumed by the 50 girls residing there were produced on site. Much of the hay and grain for the livestock was also raised on site. Like the Boy’s School, the Girl’s School used inmate labor to not only keep costs low but to provide instruction.
What about the Wyoming Honor Farm outside of Riverton? Originally called the Penitentiary Farm, the 880-acre parcel was purchased by the Legislature in late spring 1931 and did not become fully functional for a couple of years. The original buildings were little more than shacks and inadequate for occupation, much less security. Most of 1931 was given to building a dormitory and an adequate water system, both completed with inmate labor from the State Penitentiary in Rawlins. They did manage to harvest 40 acres of sugar beets, their only product that first year, with plans to greatly increase production in the following years.