Harvesting a Healthier Community

Produce grown by inmates donated to pantry

By Kimberly Petalas

kpetalas@thelandmark.com

Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis unloads a milk crate of summer squash at the Rutland Food Pantry. Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, food pantry volunteer Lynne Amsden, volunteer Paula Stidsen, Officer Brian Almstrom, and volunteer Cynthia Katinas help process the food donation.

 Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis unloads a milk crate of summer squash at the Rutland Food Pantry. Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, food pantry volunteer Lynne Amsden, volunteer Paula Stidsen, Officer Brian Almstrom, and volunteer Cynthia Katinas help process the food donation. Kimberly Petalas photos

 Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis recently paid a visit to the Rutland Food Pantry to donate some fresh produce that was harvested as part of a new program aimed at creating  healthier communities.

 Evangelidis has implemented the Inmate Agricultural Training Program at Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston, in partnership with the state Department of  Agriculture. Mentioned

 The sheriff ’s farming program, which utilizes an existing 12-acre parcel of land appropriated by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, is tended to during the week by inmate labor. The  crops, which are all organic, include corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins. With just under $1,000 in initial start up costs for seed and fertilizer, the  program has grown into a costeffective win-win for both the inmates and the local community, Evangelidis said.

 

“Fresh produce is a rarity,” said Paula Stidsen, a volunteer at the Rutland Food Pantry. “This is a real treat to those that we serve.”

Cynthia Katinas, another volunteer at the pantry, said the gift from the sheriff ’s office is “a real treasure.”

“Usually we are handing out canned food so this gives our clients something different,” she said. “It is nice to have and it also defrays the cost for us by having food donated to us.”

Officer Brian Almstrom is one of the officers who helps to oversee the program, spending his time in the fields with the inmates.

“It really brightens their day and ultimately changes their mood,” he said. “They are out in the fresh air and I think that makes a complete difference for them. It is changing them as a person.”

The sheriff personally unloaded dozens of milk crates full of vegetables at the Rutland Food Pantry on Sept. 12, saying that the Wachusett area still holds a special place in his heart.

“Being the former state rep from the area, I still hold a special place for these communities, even though my coverage area as sheriff is greater than this,” he said. “It truly changes them as a person, and that is the point of these programs. We see a lot of the older inmates in this program, while the younger ones are involved in the painting and building community service programs. We are giving them valuable life skills so when they leave, they have something productive they can do in society.”

This year’s harvest has yielded more than 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 lbs of additional vegetables, providing inmates with a better alternative to the usual canned vegetables with the added benefit of a significant savings of over $20,000 in inmate food costs at the jail.

“The initiative by the Worcester County Sheriff ’s Office touches on every imaginable aspect of common sense I can think of,” said Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Commissioner Greg Watson. “Inmates are learning valuable skills while at the same time supplementing their diets with fresh, healthy produce that they have grown and harvested themselves.”