Summit County farmer’s market allows inmates to grow, sell produce
Market targets low-income families using government assistance
For Michael Burke, gardening has become a therapeutic escape. He says it gives him an opportunity to spend hours at a time outside to find peace of mind and foster “good thoughts and good vibes.”
Burke, who is an inmate in the Summit County Jail, said it’s difficult to achieve that mindset while inside. Originally from Pompano Beach, Florida, Burke has lived in Park City for nearly four years. He received a two-year sentence for violating his probation following a domestic violence charge. He has 16 months left before he is released.
Earlier this year, Burke was given the opportunity to help fellow inmate Carl Dicharo oversee the garden behind the Summit County Jail. Now, on any given day, Burke and Dicharo, can be found outside with rakes in their hands and dirt under their nails talking to their plants, and, at times, singing to them.
“We get to spend time, mostly by ourselves, to focus on the things that we can do positively when we get out,” Burke said.
The large space dedicated to the garden includes a greenhouse and several rows of carefully planted produce successfully sprouting above the dirt. The area is surrounded by tall fencing and barbed wire.
The produce Burke and Dicharo grow – watermelon, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, pumpkins and cilantro – is used in the jail’s kitchen and now, thanks to a recent partnership with Summit County Health Department, in the Summit County Community Market.
As part of the Health Department’s effort to provide fresh produce for low-income families, partnerships were formed with the Sheriff’s Office and other local growers, such as Summit Community Gardens and USU Extension, to create a county farmer’s market.
Last week, the Health Department hosted the first of two community markets that will be held this year. Staffers were on hand to discuss recipes and the benefits of cooking with fresh produce.
“It has been a great experience for me. I never gardened before and it is the peace that comes with knowing I am being a service to my community, which the judge told me I need to be of more service, so I am,” Burke said with a laugh.
Burke attended the market and ended up selling all of the produce that was brought. He earned $31 for the jail’s inmate programming, which supports ongoing education to expand inmate skills.
“It was a great feeling because it’s like they (attendees) embraced us and they weren’t afraid of us,” Burke said. “They came and talked to us and it was great being a part of the community and giving back to it.”
Dicharo said he volunteered for the program because “service is a big thing for me.” He said it allows him to get away from his mistakes. Dicharo has served six years of a 10-year sentence for aggravated burglary. He has two years and two months left.
“I have committed to being out here for the next two years,” Dicharo said. “The experience was difficult at first. But, after seeing things grow and having the peace that comes from it, it was relaxing. Also, because I know what this is going for and that was a big motivation.”
Phil Bondurant, Summit County’s environmental health director, said the primary intent of the market was to bring local growers together who would accept Electronic Benefits Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits as payment for their produce.
“There wasn’t an avenue in Summit County for the individuals who are receiving government assistance to get fresh produce,” Bondurant said. “One of the first people who came through the market took advantage of using their federal assistance. To hear her talk with the producers and to see it really connect was extremely rewarding.”
Bondurant also commended Burke and Dicharo for their participation and enthusiasm.
“They (Burke and another inmate) were fun to be around. They were energetic and seeing them interact with the public was a very rewarding process for them, I’m sure,” he said.
Bondurant said the first market was successful because connections were made between community members. He added, “This model definitely has the potential to grow and expand.”
“Exposure, in of itself, is what we are trying to accomplish,” Bondurant said. “We won’t get everyone to come in the first one. But we reached a dozen or so people yesterday and hope they will continue to share the word.”
The Health Department will host the next community market Tuesday, Sept. 12. However, a time has not been determined. The Health Department will also offer car seat checks that day.
Dicharo said when he is released, he wants to continue to garden and, hopefully, teach his children.
“When I get out I definitely want to pick up and start my own garden and maybe help provide food for my neighbors and reach out to the community,” Dicharo said.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.