Stow Municipal Courthouse garden provides vegetables for local food bank

by SOPHIE KRUSE | Reporter Published:

Some seeds planted at the Stow Municipal Court will be doing some good for lots of people.

A vegetable garden was planted five years ago on the grounds of the courthouse, with the mission to provide fresh vegetables to a local food bank and give individuals with mandated community service something they'd be able to take pride in.

The garden was the brainchild of Judge Kim Hoover, who brought it to fruition alongside court administrator Rick Klinger -- who oversees all the community service workers. It started in 2009 with the new location of the courthouse, which is at State Route 8 and Steels Corners Road.

The courthouse is located on wet and fertile ground that was previously a celery farm, according to Magistrate John Clark, who helps to oversee and tend the garden. This makes it prime territory for a garden on its grounds.

The plants are tended to by community service workers, who are non-violent offenders. These workers also maintain the entire grounds, including the flower garden near the entrance to the courthouse, which results in minimal costs of labor for the court.

The garden produces a wide variety of vegetables, including potatoes, beans, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlic. The potatoes were planted last year, and yielded 2,000 pounds in their first year. They were added to have more vegetables that would have a long shelf life.

In total, the garden produced 3,500 pounds of vegetables last year -- most of which was donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. It made it the most successful year for the courthouse garden.

The main garden is located at the front of the building, including the vegetable boxes and the garlic and onion plants. The recently-added potato patch can be found behind the parking lot in the back of the lot.

The process to bring the garden to life begins in February, when select vegetables, including cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, are planted in the court's basement. Plant grow lights are used to start off the growing, and then they are transplanted to the outdoors in early May. The grow lights were confiscated in a drug-dealing case that went through the Summit County Common Pleas Court, and Hoover arranged to get them for the garden instead of having them destroyed. The lights can cost hundreds of dollars and greatly decreased the amount that they would have to spend.

Besides buying occasional seeds, which are sometimes purchased by staff members, many of the tools had been donated or already were in use for maintenance of the grounds. The court also receives many discounts and donations from Lowe's Home Improvement on Hudson Drive.

A large amount of the community service workers are young adults in the Diversion program, with the most common offenses including underage drinking and minor marijuana misdemeanors.

"A lot of these offenses happen to hit right at summer, so it's a good source of community service," Clark said. "But [the garden] can capture their interest. They see something positive in it, not just a punishment."

The vegetables in the garden are all at a different stage in growing, which allows for many different harvest times and frequent deliveries to the Foodbank.

"The Foodbank loves to see us coming," Clark said. "We make deliveries once or twice a week once the vegetables are ready."

Clark hopes to expand the garden in the coming years. This year, he aims to increase vegetable production and be able to reach out to other organizations in the area -- while still giving the same amount to the Foodbank. He is also throwing around the idea of planting a pumpkin patch somewhere on the property and opening it up to the community around October.

There also is a section of the garden that is reserved for employees, where they are able to plant whatever they would like.

"Sometimes, I come out here if it's been a stressful day," said Clark, who is the first generation on his mother's side to get off the family farm. While Clark doesn't plant his own vegetables anymore, he often comes out when he has some spare time to do a little bit of work.

While Clark has set his sights high for the coming years, he has one large goal for 2014.

"We want to break 3,500 pounds," he said. "We're proud to have [the garden]. It's a wonderful community resource, and really aligns with our philosophy -- to help the community."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.