The hard work of some prison inmates has helped feed the hungry at several area food pantries and elderly housing projects.
A pair of inmates and two Department of Correction employees delivered about 240 pounds of summer squash, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes to the Windsor Court, Woodside Park, Ella Grasso Manor and Enfield Manor complexes Friday morning. The group then delivered another batch of produce to the Friday afternoon.
"One of the staff members recommended us to hook up, because they had some relatives that were here in the centers that were closed in and can't go out to get vegetables," said Dave Roston, district correctional food service supervisor.
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Five correctional facilities in Enfield and Somers now boast gardens that are worked by select inmates. Seeds for the gardens are all donated by various garden centers, meaning the project has virtually no cost to taxpayers.
Statewide, gardens at DOC facilities yielded 24,000 pounds of produce in 2011. "It will be higher this year," said John Tarascio, warden at the 's Willard building.
About 75 percent of the crop is used for the prison population, and 25 percent will be donated to needy organizations, Roston said.
Gardens are maintained at the Enfield Correctional Institution, the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution and the Willard building in Enfield, as well as the Cybulski building and in Somers.
Nine inmates are currently studying vocational horticulture at the Willard building. They are looking forward to September, when they receive a greenhouse formerly housed at the Bergin Correctional Institution in Storrs, which closed nearly a year ago.
More than 20 inmates work regularly at the Willard-Cybulski gardens, Tarascio said.
"I like the fresh air and I like picking when it grows," inmate Javier Garcia said. "We help the population where we're at, and we also donate to other communities too. It's amazing what we do."
Inmate Phil Wiggins said he's been gardening all his life in his hometown of Austin, TX.
"When it came time for me to get outside clearance, I needed something to do, and the best thing I could find was the garden," Wiggins said. "I run the tiller, and I like to give out orders."