A new partnership between Hewell prison in Worcestershire and a vertical farming company is seeing prisoners learn advanced farming techniques in a project designed to prepare them for life outside, once they have been released.
The trial is being headed by farming technology company LettUs Grow – specialists in aeroponic food systems – and will enable the prisoners to produce leafy greens in compact towers using little or no soil.
See also: Why ‘vertical’ farming is growing in the UK
The vegetables and herbs will be grown in a container-based set-up as part of the firm’s “Drop and Grow” project.
The advanced technology produces more plants, more quickly and with 98% less water than conventional methods.
It is a first for HMP Hewell staff and prisoners alike, and LettUs Grow have provided extensive training, including a two-day course for staff.
This covered all the basics of aeroponics and container farming, including everything from farm management to plant husbandry and food safety regulations.
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 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.”
Working within the vertical farms, it is hoped that the prisoners will develop key skills in areas such as farm management software, plant science and food safety.
This forms part of the government’s strategy to ensure prisoners utilize their incarceration to better their prospects of finding and retaining a job once they are released, reducing the chance of reoffending
The governor of HMP Hewell, Ralph Lubowski said: “I am delighted to partner with LettUs Grow in this fantastic initiative, which will give our prisoners the opportunity, confidence and training to turn their lives around.
“Vertical farming is an innovative, emerging industry and this partnership highlights our commitment to ensuring that prisoners are skilled up to find work on release”.
With the latest figures showing that the cost of repeat offending totals some £18bn, the re-education of prisoners is prominent on the government’s agenda.
Prisons minister Stuart Andrew said: “This scheme is just the tip of the iceberg in our drive to equip prisoners with the practical skills they need to get a job on release – ultimately cutting crime and keeping the public safe.”