By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A farming operation at the Belknap County House of Corrections is benefiting from new techniques designed to extend the growing season, and is now offering tomatoes and peppers at its farm stand, which is open from noon to 5 p.m. daily.
The tomatoes and peppers are being grown in a high tunnel greenhouse which was built last year at the county complex with assistance from the Belknap County Conservation District, according to Lisa Morin, district program coordinator. They spent nearly $6,000 on the greenhouse system, she said.
Sgt. Robert Mott, who is in charge of the farm program, led a tour of the farm operations at the facility Wednesday morning in which he showed the high tunnel greenhouse and another recently installed greenhouse where herbs are grown, as well as the one-acre garden area where a large variety of crops, including squash, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, are being grown along with pumpkins, corn, potatoes and lettuce.
Mott said that the greenhouse has a drip-irrigation system and maintains a temperature of 60 degrees or higher, creating rapid plant growth, and has a pollination garden next to it which attracts bees to ensure pollination of the crops grown inside.
“A lot of what’s being grown here is already spoken for by places like the Local Eatery,” said Mott, adding that he is constantly learning about agriculture thanks to people like Kelly McAdam of the Extension Service and Lisa Morin of the Belknap County Conservation District.
He said the garden area has the benefit of water for irrigation from a deep well next to it which has allowed the crops to be watered during dry periods.
“What you’re seeing is the result of a lot of hard work by inmates. We have four or five guys who are out here working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week to take care of the crops. They take a lot of pride in their work and feel good about seeing the plants they started as seedlings starting to produce food. All the credit goes to them,” said Mott.
One of the hardest workers is Ray Richford, a 57-year-old inmate from the Bristol-Alexandria area who is sort of the go-to guy when it comes to gardening.
Richford said he grew up farming and milking cows and enjoys working outdoors, rain or shine, to keep things growing. He noted that so far this year there have been 17 woodchucks trapped and removed from the garden area. He keeps track of all the different kinds of vegetables being grown and can describe the different tastes of all the varieties of summer squash which are being grown.
He said the first corn crop which was planted didn’t take, but the second planting did and is coming along well in the summer heat. Herbs being grown include basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and thyme. There’s also kale and rhubarb chard.
Raime Shaw and Shawn Patraw are two of the others spending a lot of time in the gardens his year.
“It’s hard work, and taking care of the weeds just never stops. Even when you pull them out by the roots, you’ll see some new ones coming through the ground the next day. But it’s really nice to be out here,” said Raime.
Patraw said it’s a good feeling to see the work he’s putting in producing some tangible results. “You feel good about yourself at the end of the day.”
Mott said none of what is being grown goes to waste and that a lot of it used by the Belknap County Nursing Home’s kitchen. He said that a large crop of pumpkins is expected, many of which will be used at this fall’s Pumpkin Fest in Laconia.
The farming program was reinstated at the Department of Corrections last year after having been cut as a cost-saving measure several years ago. Superintendent Keith Gray said the program ran at no cost to the county last year and that it very beneficial for the inmates.
Shawn Patraw, an inmate at the Belknap County House of Corrections, mans the farm stand at the Belknap County complex where produce grown by the inmates is being sold to the public. The stand is open afternoons from noon to 5 p.m. and offers a wide variety of produce, from squash, zucchini and cucumbers, to tomatoes and peppers. (Roger Amsden/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Sgt. Robert Mott of the Belknap County Corrections Department shows the tomato plants which are being grown in a high tunnel greenhouse at the county complex. (Roger Amsden/The Laconia Daily Sun)
A one-acre plot of land being farmed by inmates of the Belknap County House of Corrections is producing a bumper crop of summer squash. (Roger Amsden/The Laconia Daily Sun)
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