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RECAP gardeners set open house

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ANN MARIE AMES
September 13, 2011
— It never, ever gets old.

Folks who grow gardens will tell you they never tire of collecting pounds of the fresh, colorful produce they've cared for all summer. One bite is enough to make you forget the days of pulling weeds, smacking bugs and scratching zucchini rash.


For a handful of people, that first, magical gardening experience happens in an unlikely place—the county jail.


On Monday, inmates in the Rock County Jail RECAP program will host an open house to show off the fruits of their labors. The event will feature tours of the RECAP gardens along Highway 14 as well as samples of produce, salsa and other snacks.


RECAP is a program that provides treatment services for people with addictions who have committed crimes.


RECAP participants must work at least 85 hours of community service, and the garden is one place they can do so, said Jason O'Connor, the county's RECAP site supervisor. Last year, RECAP'ers put in 2,887 labor hours in the 1.5-acre garden, O'Connor said.


For many inmates, the RECAP garden is their first gardening experience, and the program is meant to be personally rewarding as well as educational, O'Connor said.


"Taking something from a seed and seeing it grow and producing something … it kind of says something for the person," O'Connor said.


It also lets the inmates give back to the community, he said. The produce is donated to WIC markets in Janesville and Beloit and to ECHO and served at Rock Haven.


"We give a lot of vegetables away," said Jim Haseman, who volunteers to supervise RECAP workers several days a week. "At this point in time, when we have so many hungry people, that is really important."


Haseman and volunteer Deb Grams, along with others, use the space for horticultural experimenting. Haseman said they have planted apples from seed and hope to do grafting.


The vegetable garden includes curly beans and an ornamental vine spinach variety, among other interesting treats.


The gardens are a joint project supported by the UW Extension, the Rock County Master Gardeners and the county. RECAP participants work in the garden often under the supervision of volunteers. The county's juvenile corrections program has a section of the garden—mostly pumpkins.


One space is reserved for RECAP alumni who are encouraged to stay in touch and participate. Many do, Haseman said.


The variety of projects serves a variety of goals, O'Connor said.


"My No. 1 mission is giving back to the community," he said. "And then educating our participants as to what the garden is all about."


IF YOU GO

What: RECAP garden open house


When: 3 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19.


Where: Directly east of Rock County Juvenile Corrections, 210 E. Highway 14, Janesville. The garden stretches along Highway 14 east of the juvenile facility.


Details: Walk through gardens maintained by Rock County Jail inmates under the supervision of staff and volunteers. Sample produce and see many unusual and heirloom varieties of vegetables. Use the main entrance to the jail, drive behind juvenile corrections and park on the road along the side of the garden. You'll see the hoophouse and the red tool shed.


More gardening: Stretching south from the RECAP gardens are dozens of plots that make up the Rock County Community Garden. Each season, families rent plots from the county. Gardening abilities range from beginner (can barely hold a shovel) to master (builds tomato trellises stronger than many homes.)


Feel free to walk through the garden. It's a great place to see many kinds of techniques at once. Maybe you'll decide you want a plot next year. But be warned: Gardeners pay for their plots, and the produce is private property. Treat it like you would someone's backyard garden and look but please don't touch.



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