LettUs Grow trials vertical farming rehabilitation in UK prisons

LettUs Grow is trialling vertical farming skills rehabilitation in UK prisons. Image credit: LettUs Grow

Bristol-based startup LettUs Grow is trialling its vertical farming technology in UK prisons with the goal of teaching prisoners skills for rehabilitation.

To begin the trial will start at HM Prison Hewell based in Worcestershire, where LettUs Grow has delivered one of its “DROP & GROW” aeroponic container farms.

Aeroponic farming removes the need for soil, holding the roots in a growing medium and spraying them with nutrient-rich mist.

The trial will see prisoners grow leafy greens, salad and herbs. If successful the scheme will be rolled out to more prisons across the country.

Prisoners will learn skills suited for jobs of the future that will help them turn over a new leaf when they re-enter society.

“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,” said MP Stuart Andrew, prisons minister.

Founded in 2015, LettUs Grow’s 40ft container farm will teach prisoners skills in plant husbandry, the workings of aeroponics, farm management software, operating procedures, food hygiene and food safety.

Those skills could be in high demand should vertical farming become more prevalent. Globally, the vertical farming market is expected to be worth an estimated $33.02bn (£27.03bn), according to Grand View Research.

Ralph Lubowski, governor, HMP said: “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.

“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: promises and challenges

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Vertical farming has the potential to reduce the environmental impact associated with food logistics. Insted of shipping produce overseas or across the UK, vertical farms can be located nearer to densely populated areas such as cities.

While vertical farms offer weather protection and improved efficiencies, they come with high upfront costs, intensive energy use and require specialised skills.

Vertical farming companies in the UK include Derby-based Light Science Technologies, which is developing a sensor for vertical farming, and Scotland’s Intelligent Growth Solutions, which received £42.2m last year.

Climate tech was found to be the fastest-growing vertical in Europe.