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Inmates Bring Hydroponic Farming to Jail

The Community Inmate Work Force Program at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center has put some inmates' skills to good use.

WINCHESTER, Va. - Thanks to inmates with some unique skills, hydroponic farming has found a home at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center.

"You have [to worry about] your nutrient level and pH balance,” said Michael Ganoe, the inmate who designed the hydroponic system. “With this you actually produce much quicker than a garden. You get a crop about every three to four weeks."

This means a hydroponic system can grow produce about twice as fast as a regular garden. At the detention center all the produce grown in the hydroponic greenhouse and garden are picked, brought to the kitchen, and cooked for the entire jail.

"This is our test run, so we'll see how this goes,” said Ganoe, who's currently testing out swiss char plants. “I’m sure we're going to grow a whole bunch of different things."

Ninety percent of the materials needed were donated by the Shenandoah Area Council Boy Scouts Chapter.

"The guys from the Community Work Force Inmate Program come out every weekend and help us with various maintenance projects. They happened to mention that they were building a hydroponic stable, and needed materials," said Bill Joyce, a Ranger with Camp Rock Enon.

The Community Inmate Work Force Program focuses on two things. First, a supervisor will review an inmate's skill set.

"My grandparents and my mom had me in the garden since I was 5-years-old,” said Bill Piggott, a gardener and inmate at NRADC. “I heard that they were having a garden in plans, so I volunteered my services."

The program also focuses on teaching them skills.

"Somehow [Sergeant] Cooper got my name, and asked me if I could install a solar paneled fan,” said Carlton Miles, the inmate responsible for the cooling portion of the hydroponic greenhouse. “I've installed a lot of electrical fans, but never a solar panel fan before [now]."

"Let’s teach these guys something,” said Sergeant Denzil Cooper, Supervisor of the Community Inmate Work Force Program. “Let's give them something to take away from this program, and take with them to the outside."

"If my kids are watching, I hope they get prepared and take lessons, because we'll be growing stuff when I come home,” said DJ Ramey, with a laugh. Through the program, Ramey assists with the lawn care and maintenance of the garden.

The inmates hope to be able to use the hydroponic greenhouse year round.

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