CANTON, Ohio — Many people say you should take life’s lemons and turn them into lemonade. Or maybe you should take tomatoes and turn it into salsa.
That may just be what inmates at the Stark County Jail are doing.
Master gardener volunteers from the Ohio State University Extension, Stark County office in Massillon, are guiding nonviolent inmates at the jail through a gardening project. After the vegetables are finished growing and ripen, they will be donated to the Meals on Wheels program.
The program started at the Stark County Jail this spring is a partnership between the Stark County Farm Bureau, Ohio State University Extension office in Stark County, Meals on Wheels program and the jail.
“This program utilizes existing land and resources to benefit many people,” said Maureen Austin, extension educator for agriculture and natural resources at OSU Extension, Stark County. “Trustees (inmates) will grow the vegetables and, in the process, help more people have a greater understanding of where food comes from.”
The garden includes radishes, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peppers, beans and even some marigolds in the hopes of keeping the rabbits away.
The vegetables from the garden will become part of the meals served to the clients of the Meals on Wheels program.
The garden measures 30 feet by 90 feet and is located in a fenced area on the west side of the jail. Up to five supervised inmates will work in the garden at any given time for up to two hours a shift.
“We are just hopeful for a good growing season,” said Capt. Laura Stewart-Johnson of the Stark County Sheriff’s office.
The program began in January with meetings between the groups. Master gardeners led classes for the inmates, teaching them gardening basics.
The garden was planted in succession so a continuous supply of produce can be made available to the Meals on Wheels program.
The Stark County Farm Bureau donated money for supplies, including the bedding plants. They also supplied the program with shovels, gloves and hoses for watering the garden.
In addition, Hartville Hardware donated a Troy-Bilt rototiller for the project and Metzgar’s Hardware also made donations to the effort.
“This is an exceptional use of people, land and natural resources,” said Nick Kennedy, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director in Columbiana, Portage, Stark and Summit counties.
“It’s a great example of the positive impact agriculture has on the community and we’re proud to support the program.”
He added the organization hopes the program expands to other counties in the next few years if things go well in Stark County.
The project is starting conservatively in size in the hopes that with success this year, it can grow.
“Hopefully, we will expand in the future,” said Stewart-Johnson.
For right now, the group is just happy to have all the planting done for this season.
“We are anxious. We just want to get the planting done,” Stewart-Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the Meals on Wheels program is excited about the fresh vegetables planned for later this summer.
“We prepare our meals daily in our on-site commissary,” said Nora Logsdon, program manager and dietitian for Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne counties.
“Fresh ingredients are essential to our dishes and the harvest from the garden project will enable us to serve even more people.”