A northeast Ohio court is putting criminals to work and making good use of seized equipment all while feeding needy community members.
Stow Municipal Judge Kim Hoover is standing by the court's vegetable garden eating a plucked-from-the-vine pepper.
"Our beautiful peppers," Judge Hoover said.
A couple of years ago, Judge Hoover got the idea of growing plants and vegetables around the brand new courthouse. The plants would beautify the building, and the food would be donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Judge Hoover and his co-workers didn't know much about agriculture, and they learned on the go. They also elicited the help from young adults who got on the wrong side of the law and ended up with community service. They constructed garden beds and grew tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.
"Community service sometimes is people leaning on a broom somewhere. We wanted them to come and work because we want to teach work ethic with it," Judge Hoover said. "They are producing food for the needy, and I think it motivated them to work harder, and they became very dedicated to the task."
Judge Hoover stayed dedicated, too. At the beginning of the year he heard about marijuana plant-growing lights that were seized during a drug arrest. Once the case was finished he asked for the lights to help grow food during the winter months.
"I thought with the lights I could start my season earlier," Judge Hoover said.
When he brought the idea back to Stow Court Administrator Rick Klinger, Klinger wasn't so sure about the proposal.
"Just another one of his harebrained ideas that he always comes up with and tries to get us to manage," Klinger joked.
As it turned out, Klinger is managing the project. He helped put up the lights in the court's basement so they could start growing seedlings and even came in on the weekends to water the plants. Now, he's making sure the community service workers are getting everything planted just right.
"I've not really done much agriculture work in my life but it was fun to get the lights up and running and to see the final product, produced fruits and vegetables," Klinger said.
With help from court staff, those serving, and the new lights, the garden has grown.
"This year produced 20 bushels of peppers and cucumbers and things. Last year was probably half of that," Judge Hoover said. "We ended up producing 600 pounds of potatoes. Next year we plan on producing 2,000 pounds of potatoes."
Next season Judge Hoover said they will also try their hand at garlic, giving the foodbank produce that is more shelf-life friendly.
"We're rank amateurs trying to do our best," Judge Hoover said.