LACONIA — A popular gardening program at the Belknap County House of Correction is being discontinued just three years after having been revived.
The program was very visible to the public during summer months when inmates manned a farm stand along North Main Street where they sold produce raised on the one-acre plot on county-owned land next to the county jail. It also sold crops directly to businesses like the Local Eatery and provided vegetables to the kitchen at the Belknap County Home.
The program was expected to generate $3,000 in revenue this year and show a $640 profit.
Belknap County Corrections Department Superintendent Keith Gray recommended dropping the program to county commissioners last week due to the lack of funds for part-time wages in his department’s budget.
Gray said that the cut by the Belknap County Delegation leaves him without enough funds to provide suitable supervision for the program.
He said that it would cost $12,165 to have a person supervising the program 32 hours a week for the 22 weeks the program would be in operation.
“With the part-time wage line appropriation less than the Commissioner’s recommendation, there is a more pressing need to provide adequate shift coverage for the correctional facility than supervising the farm program,” Gray wrote in his letter to the commissioners urging that the program be terminated.
Commissioners agreed with his assessment but said they said they were sorry to see a program that had provided so much benefit to the inmates being cut.
The program had been revived in 2015 after having been cut as a cost-saving measure several years before.
In 2016 the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service and the Belknap County Conservation District spent $6,000 installing greenhouses next to jail as part of the gardening program.
A high tunnel greenhouse where tomatoes and peppers were grown was built, as well as another greenhouse where herbs were grown.
The high tunnel greenhouse has a drip-irrigation system and maintained 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 large variety of crops, including squash, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, kale, rhubarb chard and broccoli, were grown in the garden plot, along with pumpkins, corn, potatoes and lettuce.
Herbs being grown included basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and thyme.