MANCI Hosts First-Ever Pumpkin Challenge in Ohio Prisons

Even Charlie Brown, Linus and the Peanuts gang would marvel at the large pumpkins grown across Ohio and displayed at Mansfield Correctional Facility on Monday.

The Giant Pumpkin Challenge Weigh in at MANCI on Monday was a sight to behold, with pumpkins from about 12 of Ohio’s correctional facilities on display being transported by vans to Ohio’s 13 prison for an inaugural event aimed at bringing people together at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Belmont Correctional Institution won the first place trophy in the inaugural Giant Pumpkin Challenge Weigh In with a pumpkin that weighed 596 pounds.

The pumpkin, named Pipsqueak, had to be lifted by a forklift fitted with straps to be placed on the scale. Other pumpkins, less heavy, were carefully placed on the scales by men using tarps to lift their starters.

The winning team mentored by a champion pumpkin grower

The winning pumpkin was grown by the team of Michelle Theil, secretary at Belmont Correctional for 26 years, Correctional Officer John Jaskowaik and inmates at the St. Clairsville, Ohio facility.

The gigantic pumpkin got a little help from Theil’s husband, Jeff, who mentored the team. He happens to be an award-winning state champion pumpkin grower who competes annually in a global competition, held as part of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.

The pumpkin had some orange but was mostly tan or gourd in color. The team actually grew two pumpkins, but the other rotted from the bottom, Michelle Theil said.

Without giving away any secrets, the Theils (pronounced Tiles) said the pumpkin needed a lot of water and came from a seed from Giant Atlantic.

MANCI Corrections Sgt. Ruby Waltz organized the event to bring everyone together for fun. Prior to weighing, the pumpkins were measured from stem to bloom.

Representatives and prison inmates from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections worked to grow the biggest pumpkin this year and the giant pumpkin weigh-in was held Monday at Mansfield Correctional Facility.  Belmont Correctional Institution won the first place trophy with a pumpkin weighing 596 pounds.

Waltz came up with the idea for the event and for four years ran a community garden with the help of inmates on the local jail grounds. Next year, MANCI inmates will set up an orchard, all with funds from a grant, she added. Everything she does with gardening comes from grants, Waltz added.

Last year, the Community Grown Fruit and Vegetable Garden at MANCI harvested 9,500 pounds of produce. This year that total was 6,500 pounds, which MANCI director Tim McConahay said he was very proud of, as the gardens provide food for residents in three counties through the non-profit food bank. lucrative Matthew 25. Proceeds are intended for communities in Ashland, Wayne and Richland counties. .

The Mansfield Prison Garden covers an acre

The MANCI Community Garden is about an acre in size and this year it has produced tomatoes, peppers, garlic, mint, corn, turnips, greens, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cucumbers, okra, carrots and more.

The waltz, one might say, has a green thumb.

And of course, Waltz and his team grew pumpkins.

“We grew three giant pumpkins and 40 small pumpkins, the smaller ones went to Ronald McDonald House in Columbus,” she said.

Jeff Theil, left, and his father Bill Theil, pumpkin growers and emcees, measure pumpkins grown by inmates and workers at Ohio correctional facilities Monday during the Giant Pumpkin Challenge Weigh in held at MANCI.

Waltz’s work is never done. The gardening team is already preparing the ground for next year.

On Monday, Waltz’s team displayed two bright orange pumpkins grown with compost and water. His team took fourth place with pumpkins weighing 93 and 84 pounds.

“They really worked hard for them,” she said of the MANCI detainees.

The contest rules were simple. All pumpkins had to be grown organically. Pumpkin seeds could not be planted before June 1.

Traveling to Mansfield from London Correctional, staff Tess Rowe, a nurse, and Adam Conley, an environmental scientist, said it was fun growing pumpkins with inmates at work. It was their first attempt at growing pumpkins.

Lebanon Correctional takes second place with a 110-pound pumpkin

Jeff Theil and his dad Bill were the emcees of the first Prison Pumpkin Challenge, sharing some tips on pumpkin growing and the many huge pumpkins they’ve grown for the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival over the years .

Lebanon Correctional Institution took second place, whose team’s pumpkin weighed 110 pounds. London Correctional Institution took third place with a pumpkin weighing 95 pounds.

Annette Chambers-Smith, director of Ohio’s rehabilitation department, attended the event and praised the competition for bringing people together.

Waltz said Chambers-Smith renamed the pumpkin challenge the ODRC Larry Stewart Pumpkin Challenge to honor Waltz’s father, Larry Stewart, who died Sept. 27 at age 76.

Waltz has been with MANCI for 27 years. In addition to her regular duties, she is also responsible for a gardening program.

She said her parents, Larry and Dorothy Stewart, taught her gardening in Chillicothe at a young age. Gardening is something she loves and the inmates love too. Because of so much rain, there was a lot of weeding to do this summer, she added.

“I was honored and proud that everyone was so interested in my ideas and to be here,” she said.

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