Saturday, June 8th, 2019

Planting promise

Court program ties teens to agriculture

By Tom Stankard

A 17-year-old member of the Mercer County Probation Office's Ripple Project hold. . .

CELINA - Mercer County Juvenile Court officials hope that having some youth get their hands dirty will keep them out of trouble.
"At some point, they've done something wrong, are charged and come into court," Angie Gehle, chief probation officer, said on Friday afternoon at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, where participants in the Ripple Project were tending to fruit and vegetables.
"Judge Mary Zitter wants kids to stay active. The more they are active, the less time they have to do things that brought them into court."
Ripple Project participants have been learning about the role agriculture plays in the community.
"Hopefully, they can get a better knowledge of where the food comes from," said Mercer County Fairgrounds intern Rachel Reichert, who has been involved in the project.
Seed by seed, the group has been planting produce in raised gardens assembled by Wright State University-Lake Campus adjunct professor Kip Wright and fellow professor Ron Kremer.
The two had put together gardens at the college campus and donated the fruits of their labor to local charities, but they eventually had to remove those plots, he said. Keeping the idea alive, they have assembled new ones at the fairgrounds that have been tended by different groups over the years.
Gardening is a great way to keep the mind active by learning about ecology, he noted.
"Where else can you get a handful of seeds and end up with all of this?" he asked.
One participant has been gardening as a hobby for close to three years.
"It's relaxing, but it's a lot of work," the 17-year-old said.
Enough seeds have been planted to grow 1,000 pounds of carrots, cucumbers and other produce they plan to donate to CALL Food Pantry in Celina and other local charities.
"It feels good to help people. They get fresh produce they can use for whatever they want," the minor said.
In addition to gardening, the group has also toured a steer farm and an alpaca farm and plan to sample water in different areas of Grand Lake and learn about its quality, Reichert said.
The program honors Aaron Rose, Celina, who served as director of the Mercer County Educational Service Center's alternative school and worked closely with the probation office, probation officer Jennifer Contreras pointed out.
Rose had wanted to establish a group like the Ripple Project to teach kids about agriculture on his farm, Contreras noted. It has become a collaboration among officials from the probation court, fairgrounds and Mercer 4-H Youth Development.
"Rose was an amazing individual. He would have done anything for his community," Contreras said.
Tragically Rose, 40, died a year ago, but the project carried on, she said.
"When you drop a pebble into the stream, the ripple will last forever," Contreras said.
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