Fresh produce at the Sheriff's Department

Chad Evans (left) of the Henry County jail’s garden crew and Sheriff’s Sgt. John McElroy, garden crew supervisor, admire a fresh crop of produce Thursday as they stand inside the new greenhouse at the Henry County Sheriff’s Department.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Department has long been known for its jail garden program. But this summer, that program has gotten an upgrade in the form of a brand new greenhouse.

Sheriff Monte Belew said the jail garden made that addition thanks to a grant obtained by Sheriff’s Sgt. John McElroy.

McElroy wears a lot of hats at the department. In addition to supervising the department’s animal shelter and deer processing programs, he also oversees the garden program.

He can now add obtaining federal grants to his resume.

“We’ve had the garden for years and years,” Belew said. “This year, John was able to apply for a (U.S. Department of Agriculture) 50-50 matching grant.”

The grant allowed the program to purchase a 30-feet-by-72-feet greenhouse at a cost of $5,000.

Of that, the Sheriff’s Department covered $2,500, with the goverment covering the other half.

“USDA put in fifty percent of the funds to purchase the items,” Belew said. “Then John and the inmate garden crew assembled it where it is now.”

The greenhouse was installed a couple of months ago at the program’s main garden plot next to Forrest Heights Road.

McElroy said the greenhouse will allow the garden crew to have a controlled environment in which to grow produce.

For example, the ends can be opened to keep the space cooler during the summer.

During the winter, the warmth of the sun’s rays will keep the space toasty warm.

“In February, you can get it eighty degrees if you want to,” McElroy said.

That will give the crew a two-month head start on the growing season for next year.

Currently, the greenhouse is home to 240 tomato plants, 40 pepper plants, and a few cucumbers.

“We’ll see how they do in there,” McElroy said.

“Next year we can start our garden in January or February, and hopefully next year we can have produce quicker and longer,” Belew said. “It’ll up our produce and in return, give some produce back to the community.”

“Over the years we’ve seen a lot of indoor grow operations,” Belew said with a grin. “But now we’ve got one of our own, and it’s legal.”

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