(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
Cultivated by offenders and inmates at the WEC, the garden this year has produced a bumper crop, with 1,750 pound of vegetables harvested far and 120 ears of corn. And the vegetables are still coming in.
This means lots of corn, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables for meals at the WEC, with whatever not used donated to the McCook Food Pantry and the Senior Center.
Nothing goes to waste, not even a 19-pound head of cabbage that was chopped up into coleslaw.
For some, working in the garden is a new experience, said Sgt. Michael Towery, road crew supervisor.
"A lot of the city kids here have no idea where food comes from and are amazed at how it grows," Sgt. Towery said, who selects applications from those who volunteer.
"They think it just comes from the supermarket."
One in particular, Bruce Wischnak of Minnesota, has been at it since spring and planned the garden this year. The vegetable garden is the first place he goes after getting back from road crew work every night, Towery said.
"Working in the garden gets him away from everyone, kind of like his sanctuary," Towery said.
Zane Stevens from Aurora agreed.
"It gets you from behind the fence," he said. "Time goes by faster out here."
For others, getting their fingers in the dirt has its own rewards.
The best part of the garden is "getting to work with Mother Earth, watching how things grow," said Rudy River Wolf Rosales.
And the worst part? "All the bugs, like mosquitos and grasshoppers," Lisa Morehouse said.
The WEC is a minimum-security correctional facility and is available to first-time felony offenders as an alternative to prison, or to eligible Nebraska correctional inmates that meet certain criteria. Inmates convicted of a violent crime or sex offenders are not allowed at the WEC.
Those sentenced to the WEC must complete a variety of classes in the six-month program, such as for substance abuse, parenting or GED certification. They also participate in road crews that provide labor to community agencies, such as stringing Christmas lights or light renovation work.