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Special harvest at the Westchester County Jail

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With prisoners at the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla, from left: Ayesha Khan, vice president of Food Bank for Westchester; Polly Kerrigan, senior vice president of Family Services of Westchester; Doug DeCandia; Kevin Cheverko, commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Correction; and Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino.

It’s harvest time at farms and gardens all over Westchester, including the one at the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla. Inmates and staff from the Westchester County Department of Correction work with nonprofits to help feed the hungry with food grown right at the jail. In 2016, inmates at the jail’s farm grew more than 1,600 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs, helping supplement meals for the hungry provided through Food Bank for Westchester.

Female inmates raised organic produce in garden beds that were built by staff members inside a recreation area of the jail.  

Inmate participation in all of the programs is voluntary and applicants are screened for participation. 

Under the stewardship of organic farmer Doug DeCandia, the food bank maintains farms on five campuses in the county. In addition to the jail, they are at the Woodfield Cottage juvenile detention facility in Valhalla, the Leake and Watts residential treatment center in Yonkers, the New York School for the Deaf in Greenburgh and the Westchester Land Trust in Bedford.

Janet Donat of Family Services of Westchester said, “Participants discover that nurturing another living thing takes patience, perseverance and a supportive community. By gardening together, participants also learn social skills — cooperation, communication, responsibility, and more — that can help them succeed after they leave jail.”

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