Sheriff Lew Evangelids, Special Sheriff Andrew Abdella, Corrections Officer Bryan Alstrom and Farm Manager Lt. David Kalagher show off vegetables harvested at the jail’s farm in West Boylston, MA.
By: Mark Sullivan, Telegram and Gazette Staff – Sep 14, 2018
WEST BOYLSTON – A white-bearded inmate emerged from a row of green beans at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction farm, and smiled at a compliment on all the vegetables picked that day: tomatoes, squash, green peppers and cabbages by the bushel.
“You know who you have to thank for all (these vegetables) is the good Lord,” said the inmate, who gave his name as Rich. He said he’d been putting seeds in the ground since he was five.
Rich described the appeal of summer days spent working the jail’s 11-acre farm. “You can do a little soul-searching, help produce things, and talk to the One that deserves credit and sends us on the right path to recovery,” he said. “Down here, Monday through Friday goes so quickly.”
Food pantries across Worcester County receive hundreds of pounds of fresh produce daily from the farm during the growing season, said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, leading a tour of the farm one morning this past week.
“They say, ‘Sheriff, you’re bringing us medicine,’” he said. “Fresh organic produce is truly medicine.”
So is the process of growing it, in a way.
“I enjoy getting outside, the physical work,” said an inmate named Tony. “I come back at the end of the day tired.”
Tony described starting out in the spring planting the seeds. “Poke a hole in the ground, take one step, poke another hole in the ground, put a seed right in the hole, cover it up, and then you water it,” he said.
“At the end of every day, I’d feel an accomplishment – I seeded eight rows today, I seeded 10 rows today,” he said. When the plants grew, and then the tomatoes and zucchinis began appearing on the supper table, he said, it was rewarding.
An inmate named Jimmy who said he comes from a culinary background said he now looks very differently on produce that arrives in the kitchen. “I never really thought what went into it,” he said. “I have all the respect in the world for farmers now. It’s hard work.”
Lt. David Kalagher manages the farm, which employs a dozen inmates, and produces thousands of pounds of vegetables – zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, green peppers, summer and spaghetti squash, and cabbage – that are used in the jail and delivered to food banks.
In terms of return on investment, it’s hard to top the jail farm. Lt. Kalagher said he paid $387 this year for seed. “Look in the supermarket and zucchini is going for $1.49,” he said. “We can grow over 3,000 pounds of just zucchini and summer squash.”
Sheriff Evangelidis noted that for a few hundred dollars, the farm probably produces tens of thousands of dollars worth of organic food.
Lt. Kalagher said the farm is 100 percent organic, using no chemicals of any kind. Zucchini and summer squash have done particularly well this year, he said. Southern watermelons, the kind that are yellow on the inside, are being tried out this year, and if they work out, will be planted next year. Cabbage this season is in a fourth planting. This year’s bush-bean yield has been enormous.
He said a field dedicated to butternut and acorn squash has benefited from a new 6-foot metal fence: Hungry deer try to break into jail, and the fence keeps them out. Another field is dedicated to growing feed corn. Plans call for adding sweet corn next year. A new greenhouse, built for under $500 using all recycled materials, will be kept at 75 degrees during the winter and used to grow flowers.
Pumpkins and bundles of corn stalks from the farm will be delivered to every senior center in the county for fall decorations, Lt. Kalagher said.
The Worcester County Jail and House of Correction sits on more than 300 acres in West Boylston. “This has been a farm for a hundred-and-something years,” said Lt. Kalagher, who recalls when there were 60 head of cattle here. “Every jail had a farm at one time,” he said. Worcester’s, which had lapsed, was restored when Sheriff Evangelidis arrived seven years ago, he said.
Now in his 35th year with the Sheriff’s Department, Lt. Kalagher stayed on after retirement as a part-timer to manage the farm. It might be said he is spending his retirement working on his tan. “That’s free – they don’t charge me,” he said, in reference to his arms’ nut-brown hue. “The past two weeks it’s been 90 degrees out here.”
Lt. Kalagher notes he doesn’t come from an agricultural background himself. “I’m a three-decker farmer,” says the Worcester native who is credited with keeping the agrarian tradition alive at the jail. “This is his baby,” his boss, the sheriff, says of Lt. Kalagher. “He’s got a green thumb.”