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Inmates Work Off Sentences in Clovis Community Garden

CLOVIS -- For most people, gardening provides a chance to spend some quality quiet time outdoors. That's especially true for a group of Curry County jail inmates working off part of their sentences in a community garden south of Clovis.

Most mornings, a half dozen inmates in white jail uniforms weed, water and harvest 2.2 acres of corn, beans, squash, potatoes, watermelon and cucumbers. They typically work five days a week, six to seven hours a day, depending on the weather.

"You do think about, of course, your mistakes and things like that," said Ron Alvarez, a nonviolent offender who worked in the garden for two months. "You start thinking about what you should do to correct your mistakes, and you get clearer thinking out here than you would if you were just in jail all the time."

Municipal judge Caleb Chandler came up with the community garden idea. Many agencies and volunteers made it a reality by providing land, seed, supplies, equipment and expertise.

Community service coordinator Felix Loera supervises the work crew, relying on gardening advice from agricultural experts with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station at Clovis.

"I don't have agricultural experience, so most of this has been done with the help of NMSU employees here in Clovis, especially Bruce Hinrichs, the Extension agent," Loera said. "They are the ones who are more or less telling me what I need to do, how I need to do it, when the crop is ready to pick and what I need to look for as far as the bugs and the plants and things like that."

Once the produce from the garden is harvested, most of it is sold at the local farmers market to cover garden expenses. The rest is donated to area charities.

"We've been lucky this year to sell most of it, but towards the end of the season we'll probably be able to donate a good amount to the food bank and other charitable organizations as well," Hinrichs said.

As its second year draws to a close, the community garden has taken root in Clovis. Organizers are thinking of transplanting it to a new location next year, closer to needed equipment and advisers.

"So far, the reaction has been fairly positive, though a lot of people aren't aware of the community garden yet," Hinrichs said. "It truly is a community effort."