LEICESTER, Mass. — Seniors around Central Massachusetts have been sharing the bounty from the fall harvest of the Worcester County Sheriff's Inmate Agricultural Training Program.
County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis recently visited senior centers in Holden, Leicester, Worcester, Auburn, Athol, Sutton, Leominster, West Brookfield and Westminster, bearing gifts of pumpkins, mums and cornstalks to help the seniors celebrate autumn.
"It's wonderful, and was very spontaneous," said Leicester Senior Center Director Rachelle Cloutier, who was grateful for the sheriff's outreach to the seniors in the community. "People love him here. He's been here a number of times before."
The inmate training program was initiated by the sheriff last spring in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, and has given a dozen inmates an opportunity to work on a 10-acre parcel of Sheriff's Office land to produce crops that have been feeding both inmates and the community.
"For under $1,000, the inmates grew $15,000 worth of organic food for the inmates — corn, squash, zucchini — and we delivered thousands of pounds of food to the food pantries," said Evangelidis.
Furthermore, as the inmates tend to the vegetables, they also benefit from the chance to learn a new trade and feel a sense of accomplishment from their work, said the sheriff.
"The final bump is the fall harvest, the pumpkins, cornstalks and mums, and we've been able to bring them to senior centers and spruce them up for the holidays," Evangelidis said. "It's free and it's something we can do to give back. The sherrif's department does a lot to try and help the communities, and this is one of the small ways we can do it."
Evangelidis said Deputy Michael Temple and Sgt. David Kalager have helped take the program to a higher level, and that the effort was so successful that there are plans to expand it next year.
"We already have more acreage set aside for next year," said Evangelidis. "We're very excited about it, and we've learned a lot about how to manage the program."