Jail Hydroponics Farming

jail hydroponics farming

Completing repairs on hydroponics program after Ian is a huge relief for Charlotte County Jail, inmates

Jail Hydroponics Farming | Sandra Viktorova, Andrea Melendez |

IMAGE: Inmate, Travis Palmer of Bokeelia, harvests cherry tomatoes in one of the hydroponic greenhouses. Charlotte County jail rebuilt the destroyed hydroponics farm in the year after Hurricane Ian. Completing this rebuild has been a big sense of pride for the inmates since the farm has become more productive than ever. The hydroponic farm supplies food for the inmates as well as gives them skills for jobs on the outside.

Completing repairs after Hurricane Ian can be a huge relief.

For the leadership at the Charlotte County jail, rebuilding the destroyed hydroponics farm has been a big sense of pride since it’s become more productive than ever.

But for inmates like Travis Palmer of Bokeelia, it’s much bigger than that. In many ways it’s an escape.

“We call it the golden-ticket job. We have the job that everybody wants, but only certain few have,” said Palmer.

Palmer has been in the jail since January.

“When you’re stuck in there, you have nothing but negative thoughts. You got to think about the situation you’re in and there’s not a whole lot of positive in a jail setting. So to be able to come out here, you’re learning something new, almost every day,” said Palmer.

He’s one of a handful of inmates learning hydroponics farming — growing plants without soil.

Al Burrows, a support services supervisor, runs the farm.

“They come out here and we teach them, you know, plant care from seed to germination, to transplant, to harvest, you know, so they do everything, you know, they help take care of the fertilizer, the drip irrigation, they’re taught how to do that,” said Burrows

The hydroponics program isn’t new here. It started in 2009 and ended abruptly in 2022 courtesy of Hurricane Ian.

“When Hurricane Ian came through, he destroyed the entire thing. So we had to start from scratch and we rebuilt it,” said Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummel.

The new Vertigrow system being used on this half acre space has increased the amount of plants that could be grown vertically. It’s already more productive than the previous farm. The system uses a grouping of tower structures where crops are planted and then grow vertically using water as the growth medium.

“We’re producing about $5,000 a month right now in produce. So that’s savings to our jail, savings to our taxpayers,” said Prummel.

Palmer says farming makes him feel productive. His favorite time is harvesting.

“You know it’s coming back on the plate here soon inside, (you) get to taste, reap the benefits of our work. I love being outside in general, so just to be able to get some sun and learn new things every day,” said Palmer. “Every day is a learning process out here. It gives you purpose. I mean being in a situation — you’re in jail is not a good situation no matter what. We’re getting purpose and positivity every day.”

Those who designed the program say inmates are learning skills that make them marketable to the agricultural industry.

“They can find themselves employment, and not recidivate. We’ve had that — we have our cat fish farm that’s up front. And we’ve actually had inmates that were hired by other fish farms. So the programs do work. And so not only do they help with our budget, but they help the inmates. Because the bottom line is we don’t want them to return,” said Prummel. “We don’t want them to come back. We want them to be participating members of society. And that’s what our whole goal is here.”

This time the farm will be more resilient to Mother Nature.

“This one was designed in such a way that now if we know that a hurricane is bearing down on us, we can easily disassemble this and we can store it and then set it right back up after the storm,” said Prummel.

Palmer says his time here has been a reminder of the value of simple things. Like his Southwest Florida family and the power of Mother Nature.

“The turnaround ratio is like three weeks, which blew my mind on how fast we go from this big to you know a full head,” said Palmer as he looks at a full-grown head of lettuce the inmates helped grow.

He will leave in the summer. He says the jail and the farming program is the second chance he needed.

“We all have our problems inherent. Everybody has their demons of some sort. Mine was drinking. So just be able to come in here. It was a forced rehab of sort. I would, that’s how I explain it. I needed it. I know a lot of inmates in here needed it, whether they want to admit it or not. I know I needed it. And it helped me a lot.

Palmer says he’s excited to spend time with family, get back to work—outdoors and on the water–and to try hydroponics farming at home. 

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Original Article: https://news.wgcu.org/agriculture/2024-06-03/completing-repairs-on-hydroponics-program-after-ian-is-a-huge-relief-for-charlotte-county-jail-inmates