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Ripe for the picking

A community service worker loads a crate of corn into the back of a pickup truck. The corn will be taken to Chesapeake for processing.

A community service worker loads a crate of corn into the back of a pickup truck. The corn will be taken to Chesapeake for processing.

 

The athletic fields next to the old Rock Hill Middle School in Pedro no longer host games. The whistles and cleats that once prodded the grass have been long gone.

The school is now the Lawrence County Juvenile Detention Center while the fields around it are now home to produce.

D. Scott Bowling and Charles Cooper, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judges, both are firm believers in the Lawrence County Adult Probation Farm not only for the crops it yields, but what it does for community service workers.

“First-time felony four and five offenders aren’t necessarily sent to prison,” Bowling said. “In lieu of jail time, they are sentenced to community service. Working on the farm puts individuals in the mode of operation of getting up, going to work and gives deputies a good idea of who has a strong work ethic.”

The second benefit of the farm, Bowling said, is the production of a product and the third major benefit is complying with law that says a community service program must be made available that allows people to work off court costs.

Cooper agrees there are benefits.

“People like to see people on felony probation doing something productive, not sitting at home watching soap operas,” Cooper said. “It’s a useful program and in some ways instills in people the idea of having a structured life.”

Lawrence County Sheriff, Jeff Lawless said the program is only in its second year and the results have been phenomenal. He says a late start and a dry summer hampered last year’s results, but this year has been “tremendous.”

“We yield enough food here to supply the jail and we have two new freezers in the courthouse that get filled whenever it is requested,” he said. “This year alone we have been able to donate 1,500 pounds of corn and green beans to different places. We are able to keep our freezers full and oftentimes overflowing.”

As far as cost-savings for the sheriff’s office, Lawless said he does not have a specific number. Jails are perennially the largest expense of anything that falls under the operation of the sheriff’s office and of those costs, food is a big part.

“We’re not having to buy the food and we have free manpower,” he said. “We have inmates who string beans in their jail cell and shuck corn if needed. All around this is a terrific program.”

Lawless said the jail uses seven 100-ounce cans of green beans every time the vegetable is served in the jail at a price of $6.50 per can. Corn is $7 per 100-ounce can and the jail uses five and a half cans every time it is served. Now, the corn and green beans will be supplied for free from the farm.

“The idea to start our farm really came from Greenup County, Ky.,” Lawless said. “They have a farm and they were getting free seeds from Cooke’s Farm here in Ironton. We were told Cooke’s would do the same for Lawrence County.”

Lawless admits the farm could not have been possible if it weren’t for the joint effort among county leaders and business owners.

Along with corn, green beans, and white and red potatoes, community service workers also harvest tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and watermelons.

Dennis Gibson, Lawrence County community service coordinator, spends a lot of time at the adult probation farm, where adults sentenced to community service tend to crops of fruits and vegetables.

“We have both males and females out here doing their community service hours,” Gibson said. “It’s hard work. Some of these people never had a shovel or rake in their hand before now.”

And hard work it is. In a single day community service workers can harvest between 900 and 1,100 pounds of corn and 700 pounds of green beans.

The farm takes up five acres of land – there is another field in Proctorville used by the county – but the potential exist for that area to triple.

“We can expand on out,” Gibson said. “We have more property we can farm and next year we plan to be completely covered.”

Carl Bowen, Lawrence County probation officer, said for many of the community service workers, the farm becomes a labor of love.

“We have had people come back after they have completed their hours and harvest their crops,” he said. “They planted it, they tended to it, so they come back to harvest it. That creates positivity.”

After being harvested the food is then taken to Chesapeake to be processed, which means taking the shuck off the corn and stringing the beans to prepare them for freezing.

With the farm still relatively new, Bowen said, everyone involved is still learning as they go.

“I am writing things down we need to work on,” he said. “We’re getting there.”

Felony four and five offenders are usually sentenced to 200 hours of community service, which equals 33 days and two hours.

“If they do a good job,” Gibson said, “we give them those two hours.”