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New vertical farming training scheme to be trialled at British prison

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Close-up of racks of LED lit and carefully tended living plant crops in an all-season vertical garden

A new vertical farming scheme is being introduced at HMP Hewell in Worcestershire, which will train prisoners to grow produce through indoor farming practices.

The first aeroponic container farm called DROP & GROW was delivered to the prison earlier this week and will be used to help inmates learn horticultural skills.

These include plant husbandry, a knowledge of aeroponics, farm management software, indoor farm standard operating procedures, HACCP and food safety.

The leafy greens, salad and herbs grown in the container farm will be used in prisoners’ meals.

A vertical farm uses aeroponics to grow crops without the need for soil by replacing it with a nutrient-rich mist.

The pilot scheme is a partnership project between farming technology company LettUs Grow and the prison.

It aims to help prisoners access jobs upon release in areas such as farm management software, plant science and food safety, according to Prisons Minister Stuart Andrew MP.

“This innovative scheme reflects our drive to equip prisoners with the cutting-edge practical skills needed to gain employment and play a positive role in society,” he said.

Just 17% of ex-offenders are able to find a job within a year of release, according to recent Ministry of Justice statistics.

This is why employment has become a key pillar of the Government’s prisoner rehabilitation strategy, as it is one of the most effective ways to improve quality of life and reduce the chance of re-offending, according to LettUs Grow.

Billy Rodgers, Growing Specialist and Partner Support Manager at LettUs Grow, said: “We’re offering an extra level of support on top of the usual training for this project by putting together growing plans, managing consumables like seeds or fertiliser, and delivering at regular intervals throughout the year.

“The aim is to take pressure off Site Managers and make running the farm as easy as possible by creating a structure to follow. This means they can focus on what’s most important: upskilling, empowering and rehabilitating the prisoners.”

If the trial and HMP Hewell is a success, the initiative will be adopted in sites across the country. This would allow people to access green spaces wherever they are in the country, according to LettUs Grow.

Paul Cooper, Land Based & Concrete Sector Lead for Prison Industries also added: “I’ve got a long-term vision that I want all those inner city prisons that don’t have market gardens, the Brixtons, the Birmingham prisons, the Bristol’s of this world, to contribute to growing food locally.

“We can drop these shipping containers, grow food on site, harvest in the morning, and they can eat it at lunchtime. So it can’t get any fresher.”

Vertical farming offers a way of growing food without the need for soil. Find out why soil is in danger and what can be done about it in this Food Matters Live podcast episode:

Why we need to talk about soil degradation

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