Early in 2010, I sat down with Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story to discuss the possibility of a garden project that would be good training for our inmates — who we refer to as clients — in the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center and better help them transition back to their home communities. The project would also benefit all the food cupboards and soup kitchens in Waldo County.
We discussed the availability of land, availability of staff to do the work in the garden and other resources that would be needed to do this project. We were very fortunate to lease five acres of land from Richard and Janice Nickerson of Searsport. We got the required paperwork finished in a timely manner, and in May 2010 we planted our first crop.
We devised a schedule that the clients would work three half-day shifts a week, approximately six individuals per shift, and there would be a few weeks during the heavy growing season that we would have to work five days a week. I discussed with the sheriff that I would volunteer my time managing the project and work along with the clients every shift that they were there to work in the fields.
The first year we grew about 7,000 pounds of produce, mainly corn, beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, beets and turnips. The reentry center clients enjoyed the work, enjoyed getting out into the garden and felt like they were giving back to the community.
The second year that we worked on the project — 2011 — we grew about 11,000 pounds of produce.
This year the rain was not kind to us, and the planting season got way behind — nearly a month. We planted approximately 15,000 feet of vegetables, and we were able to get the crops in quickly with the assistance of David Doak of Monroe and Randy Doak of Belfast, who assisted us with tractor work. We had weeks this summer where we had to work five days a week, sometimes on Saturdays, because when the vegetables started coming, they came in numbers hard to imagine.
The clients that worked with us from the reentry center have become so enthusiastic about the garden that oftentimes they can’t get on the list to work there because we have too many people volunteering. That is a great thing about this project; new people at the reentry center that we refer to as “Level 1” move on in a few weeks to “Level 2,” and we have new clients coming to the garden in the van every few weeks.
Many times I’ve heard them discussing amongst themselves how good they feel that they are helping someone else out and that, in the process, they are learning about gardening to help themselves as they graduate and move on from the reentry center.
This year, we produced 20,000 pounds of fresh vegetables that were distributed throughout Waldo County. Many times it worked out that we delivered to local entities with a van when we were coming or going from the garden to the Belfast area.
Waldo County can be proud of this project, which is good for the workers and the health benefits of residents having fresh produce to eat. From my personal perspective, this has been one of the most rewarding projects I have worked on as a volunteer.
Bill Shorey, of Searsport, is chairman of the Waldo County Commissioners.