Original story published in the Worcester Telegram
By Brad Petrishen TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER — If someone had driven past Veterans Inc. on Grove Street Friday morning, they might have wondered about the tall man in sharp business attire unloading butternut squash out the back of a House of Correction truck.
“Bumper crop,” a smiling Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis said of the haul from the jail farm this year. “Not only do we feed people in the jail, we’ve got surplus.”
Mr. Evangelidis was in the city Friday dropping off some of that surplus to the veterans organization. Before that, he was at the Rutland Food Pantry. His office also planned to make donations at food pantries in Sutton and Millbury.
The harvest is the result of an inmate farm project he restarted in 2012 on land owned by the jail that had been vacant.
What started with 10 acres has expanded to 12 acres, he said, and this year the effort yielded more than 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 pounds of vegetables.
The result, the sheriff said, has been fresher food for inmates, a $20,000 savings for taxpayers on food costs and better morale at the prison.
“Our inmates — particularly the older ones — benefit from the patience (required) of growing,” Mr. Evangelidis said.
“It’s better than sitting in a cell,” agreed Lt. David Kalagher, a 32-year jail employee who remembers the land being farmed decades ago under different circumstances.
“When I started here, it was more like hard labor,” Lt. Kalagher said, describing past sheriffs’ approach to the farm as more “old-school.”
Mr. Kalagher said the farm project was abandoned for years until Mr. Evangelidis revived it in 2012. Mr. Kalagher said he is thrilled with the result, noting the inmates in the program were able to turn $1,000 in seeds into more than 10,000 pounds of produce.
“Lots of the guys we have in the jail are from the city, so they’re learning,” he said. “They get to eat the food that resulted from their hard work.”
This year’s all-organic crops include corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins.
“I’ll definitely take these,” Veterans Inc. chef Matthew J. Daly said Friday of the squash, getting Mr. Evangelidis to promise to return in November ahead of the group’s annual Holiday Harvest.
Rachael Caplin, volunteer and donations coordinator for Veterans Inc., thanked the sheriff enthusiastically for the donation.
“I don’t know what we would have done otherwise,” she said, noting they lost some donors this year and are scrambling to find more.
The Grove Street pantry, which serves about 800 veteran families per year, is always looking for help, Ms. Caplin said.
Mr. Evangelidis said he hopes to have even more to offer next year, as he’s planning a “significant” expansion.
“So many good things have sprouted as a result of our farming,” he said.
Contact Brad Petrishen of the Telegram & Gazette staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.