Worcester County House of Correction Organic Farming Program Successful

ATHOL DAILY NEWS – 2/10/16

Four years ago, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis decided to implement an organic farming program at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction. With some food for thought and just under $1,000 for seed and start up costs, the sheriff converted what once was an overgrown pasture at the jail into a bountiful 13-plus acre success story that is now feeding inmates as well as local soup kitchens, food pantries, veterans groups, senior centers, charitable organizations and many community centers throughout the county that are in need.

The land, appropriated by the state Department of Agriculture, is located on the grounds of the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction and is tended to during the week by inmate labor. The crops which are all organic consist of corn, zucchini, green beans, summer squash, spaghetti squash, blue hubbard squash and pumpkins. With minimal costs and lots of manpower the program, over the last four years, has grown into a cost effective win-win for both the inmates and the local community.

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

Another plus from the prison produce is that the community benefits as well with over 400 pounds of organic vegetables picked fresh daily during growing season. Inmates participating in the agriculture program harvested garden fresh produce that was delivered to over 70 local organizations including Veterans Inc., St. Peter’s Food Panty, The Friendly House and St. John’s Food for the Poor Program of Worcester, St. Mary’s and St. Ann’s food pantries of Shrewsbury, Milford Community Supper, Wheat Community Service of Clinton, Millbury and Sutton food pantries, Gardner CAC, Fitchburg Catholic Charities, Leominster Catholic Charities and for the first time, thanks to a bumper crop of pumpkins, all 60 communities in Worcester County received a special fall delivery from the Sheriff’s farming program.

“We are so thankful for the fresh produce provided by the sheriff’s farming program. Canned vegetables are a staple here at our center; having this fresh organic produce is a special treat. Often, individuals who come to our center do not have access on their own to these healthy and nutritious food items,” said St. John’s Food for the Poor Program Director Billy Reilly.

Along with the community harvest, inmates participating in the program are also farming for a better future. Studies have shown that inmates given the opportunity to work outdoors tended to be healthier and less aggressive while the training and work experience working the farms provided a reduction in recidivism. Michael, a 34-year-old inmate in the sheriff’s organic gardening program, said he loves the farm work, noting, “It gives me a sense of pride and giving back to society.”

“With over 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 pounds of fresh organic produce grown at the jail, we are saving money while teaching inmates new skills and a sense of self-worth and dignity that comes from a hard day’s work; at the same time, local food banks and those in need in our community benefit as well,” said Evangelidis. “Our fourth year of farming produced such a record harvest, we are already counting the days until we can begin the planting again this spring.”

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Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, center. Lt. David Kalagher, left and Assistant Deputy Superintendent Michael Temple help to load some of the crates of freshly picked corn at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction.  Over 9,000 ears of corn were grown with inmate labor as part of the Sheriff’s Organic Farming Program. Submitted Photo