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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

PCF group outwits groundhogs to grow pumpkins for students

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cloverdale Elementary School students receive pumpkins recently following their delivery by Putnamville Correctional Facility staff. Students are (front, from left) Jason "Jo Jo" McCurdy, Denise Elliot, Keith Atkerson, Sami Knoy, Kaylie Polster, (back, from left) Blake Atkerson, Payton Watkins, Chase Godsey, Sylvia Ford, Sawyer Smith and Charlie McNeal.
(Courtesy photo)
PUTNAMVILLE -- Offenders assigned to the Horticulture Department at the Putnamville Correctional Facility (PCF) grew 150 pumpkins that were delivered to preschool and first-grade students at the Cloverdale and Central Elementary schools.

"There are two things that I think all children should have," Superintendent Stan Knight said, "a bicycle and a pumpkin."

The previous year, after the delivery of 62 pumpkins to students at the now-closed Reelsville Elementary, Knight told horticulture instructor Jack Mitchell the goal for the upcoming year was to enlarge the pumpkin patch.

"At the time I thought, no problem," Mitchell said.

But unbeknown to him and the 15-20 PCF offenders assigned to his crew, there were challenges ahead.

"Everything started great," Mitchell said, explaining the pumpkins were started from seeds and grown in the facility's greenhouse.

When planting season arrived, the pumpkins were transplanted to a garden. Then one morning, Mitchell and his crew were dismayed to find the pumpkins had been eaten by groundhogs.

"Because of the drought conditions," Mitchell explained, "they couldn't find anything else to eat, so they ate our pumpkins."

It was late in the season but Mitch and the group would not be deterred. They replanted gardens in several different areas throughout the facility in an attempt to thwart the groundhogs, and it worked.

By the end of the season they had more than doubled the number of pumpkins harvested.

Mitchell, Sgt. Gary Goss and Officer Carie Hardman pulled into the schools' parking lot with a trailer loaded with green and orange pumpkins weighing anywhere from 1-20 pounds.

"I don't know who was more excited," Hardman said, "us, as we watched the kids faces, or the kids when they saw all of the pumpkins!"

Knight smiled as he looked at photos from the delivery, commending staff on a job well done and issuing a friendly challenge, "Next year it will be 200, right?!"

The horticulture department at the Putnamville Correctional Facility is a vocational training program designed to teach offenders the science and technology of plant cultivation. Offenders learn marketable skills that are beneficial to the agency and community both during and after incarceration, Knight noted.

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