by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
The 2020 Shiawassee County Jail Garden has proven to be an enormous multi-county community boon. The garden, located on Shiawassee Street in Corunna, was initiated in 2018. As of this August, the garden has produced 15,000 pounds of produce delivered to 27 local pantries, nonprofits, shelters, distribution groups and institutional kitchens located in Shiawassee, Clinton, Ingham and Genesee counties. Produce also is utilized in the jail kitchen where it is used daily or frozen for future use.
The produce includes sweet onions, beets, carrots, kale, green beans, green peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini and many more vegetables. The garden area was enlarged this year, now including another 1.5 acres, to accommodate. The extra space has been used to grow 10 varieties of zucchini – the seeds provided from Family Farm & Home in 2019 with the donation of end-of-season seed packets.
According to Dan McMaster (above), garden manager – working tirelessly on this project every year – due to the pandemic, the reduction of the jail population earlier this year and “money saving efforts of closing the work release center, the labor has come primarily from the Shiawassee Youth Center. These are juveniles on probation.” Sheriff Brian BeGole and Shiawassee Court Administrator Sarah Edwards have worked together “to make this a win-win for taxpayers and the youth needing community service hours.”
BeGole has shared he thinks the garden offers an “incredible opportunity for the kids to learn something new and see their work pay off over the summer.” Though the project is still a jail garden, BeGole and Edwards would like to see this partnership involving the youth continue next year.
Despite facing some labor shortages, BeGole and McMaster have continued to provide the community with fresh produce as soon and often as possible over the summer, recognizing and planning for an increase in demand at food pantries earlier in the growing season.
With the donation of zucchini seeds from Owosso Family Farm & Home, has come the “mile of zucchini” crop this year. The zucchini was being harvested daily for a two-month period with a yield of over 7,000 pounds. McMaster shared the zucchini is “starting to wind down.”
He also shared the tomato and pepper harvest will continue until frost and that early indications point to a large winter squash harvest. “A lot of time was spent watering the winter squash because they were transplanted during those very hot and dry 90-degree days we experienced in June,” he explained.
Plans for the 2021 jail garden include an increase to 5-acres and the construction of onsite greenhouses to both start plants and also aid in extending the planting season by growing some crops inside. “Plans are currently being made with the Building & Grounds Department to harvest rainwater off of county buildings during the growing season,” McMaster shared.