Female Inmates Become Bug Inspectors

Inside a restricted greenhouse, an unlikely crew of insect farmers is being trained to raise predator bugs to kill off other insects that damage Florida's crops.

Those farmers are convicted female criminals from a jail in Seminole County (search).

"I'm making sure there are no insects and the weeds and getting the bad stuff because you don't want the roots to strangle the roses," said inmate Stacey Chenet.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (search) and the University of Florida, the insect farming and scouting program is the nation's first.

The women become trained eyes for farmers and wholesale plant growers who don't have time to go into the fields and look up close for bad bugs and killer fungi.

"The community has been very receptive, from the idea that they may get something out of here, some biological controls that they could use in their home garden. The industry, they've already started to purchase some of the plants that they produce," said Lance Osborne, an entomologist with the university.

The women are raising two kinds of bugs: one that feeds on insects that destroy ornamental plants and another that eats a plant-choking weed that's spreading across the state.

"What they're specifically taking with them is the knowledge of the identification of the insect, the damage that the insect causes — that the insect on the plant is inevitably going to cost someone a lot of money," said Debra Taylor, a deputy with the Seminole County Correctional Facility.

And the inmates are learning a trade through their work; they'll become certified insect scouts with a marketable, in-demand skill — one they didn't have when they came in.

Click on the video box above for a complete report by FOX News' Orlando Salinas.