Tucked behind a fire station and township building near the northeast Ohio city of Painesville are rows of sweet corn, cabbage, and tomatoes in a garden that started as an idea 20 years ago.
Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti decided that instead of putting low-level misdemeanor offenders in jail, he'd offer them an alternative - community service in a community garden.
"The easy way would have been to put them in jail," Judge Cicconetti said. "There has to be a better way, number one, to teach them a lesson - there has to be consequences - and number two, give something back to the community here."
With plants donated by local nurseries, equipment paid for by the defendants' fees, and supervisor Wally Siegel's guidance - the court garden's bountiful harvests have provided fresh veggies to food banks and other community service agencies for two decades. Last year, that included more than 4,000 green peppers, 11 bushels of green beans, and more than 400 dozen ears of sweet corn - for an average of three pickup loads every week.
"I've had people come back the next year and work in the garden for free. They're under no obligation. They just enjoyed it some much that they come back and volunteer to work in the garden," Judge Cicconetti added.
Defendants working in the Painesville Municipal Court garden also get a sense of pride in knowing the plants they raised are now providing fresh food to those in need.