An insect problem in Rustburg Correctional Unit #9 in Rustburg, Va., became a community service opportunity for Campbell County Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent Todd Scott.

Scott was called to the correctional facility one day by an officer who was concerned about insect problems in the two hoop greenhouses on the prison grounds. Though the facility gardens had various pest and fungal problems, it was mostly thrips — tiny slender insects with fringed wings — that were a concern.

Scott enlisted the help of, Alan Straw, fellow Horticulture, Small Fruit, and Specialty Crop Extension Agent at the Southwest Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center to see what could be done about the pests.

Soon he was interacting with prisoners on a regular basis, teaching them how to take soil samples and performing walk-thru evaluations of the plants with them.

“I was very impressed by the inmates’ knowledge, willingness to learn, and how well they kept records on what they were doing,” said Scott.

Currently Scott is running a spray trial with the help of the inmates using a Bordeaux mixture with liquid soap, hydrated lime, and Clorox to control insects and fungi in the greenhouses.

Ultimately, Scott’s initial contact with the prison will have grown into something bigger. By collaborating with prison administrators he has helped to establish a work force readiness initiative that will let future inmates obtain a private pesticide license and hopefully gain employment in the field upon being released.