Polk County work release inmates pick blueberries for charity

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Polk County jail inmates on work detail are helping feed the needy on Saturday and Sunday - by picking blueberries for charity.

Polkdale Farm owner Bill Braswell said more than 100,000 pounds of blueberries would go to waste this year after Florida's blueberry season was shifted by temperature changes, causing buyers to look elsewhere for the fruits.

Blueberry bushes have to be mainly stripped of fruit before farmers can begin the process of preparing next year's crops. Braswell said he tried inviting non-profits, and the public, to come pick the fruit in the past, but it wasn't doing the job. 

"Blueberry picking isn't fun. Ants bite you. Bees sting you. It's hot. So it's hard to get people out here," Braswell told FOX 13 News.

So he opened his fields to Polk County Jail Weekend Work Inmates for the project. 

Jail staff are bringing in 180 to 200 of the inmates to pick blueberries so they can be donated to charities and non-profit feeding programs.  At least 12 Polk County non-profits will be at the Auburndale farm to pick up the free berries.

Some of the berries will be donated to the Polk County jail to help feed more than 2,500 of the county's inmates, saving taxpayer dollars.

The Polk County Jail Inmate Work Program is an alternative sentencing program that allows judges to sentence inmates to work instead of sentencing them to jail. The inmates (who have committed relatively minor crimes) pick up trash along roadways, clean up parks, schools, and public facilities, and work for the county and cities on a variety of projects.