WILMINGTON – Second Chances Farm (SCF) called the event the Ladybug Launch Dedication, as 10,000 ladybugs shared the new 47,500-square-foot facility with around 300 attendees and 13 speakers on the agenda.
SCF Founder Ajit Mathew George sees a future where state or federal inmates from Delaware will have farming jobs — and futures as entrepreneurs — waiting for them when they’re released, all within the Wilmington city limits. That dream has become a reality at 3030 Bowers St. in the Riverside neighborhood and was celebrated Monday afternoon.
But the real stars were the 17 former inmates and now SCF employees who Peace by Piece Executive Director Saad Soliman introduced to the audience in an emotional salute to their resilience in the face of difficult lives.
There were hugs. Soliman outlined how much time each has served or the substance abuse issues they’ve overcome. He talked about the efforts to reunite with their families. One candidate met his 6-year-old for the first time the day before. Soliman talked about how some want to make their mothers proud, while others are focused on their children, including a few who have older children in the military.
The home of the former Opportunity Center – whose logo has been left on the building as a reminder of what SCF is offering the former prisoners – is the home of a “vertical farm” where his team will be growing crops on LED-lit hydroponic towers that do not require soil, pesticides, or even natural sunlight.
With eight levels on each of 400 growing modules, George anticipates harvesting 4.5 million plants every year and selling them to local restaurants and grocery stores.
As multiple speakers put it, the detailed introductions of the new SCF team members (pending passing of detailed background checks) put a face on what George is trying to do.
“We all have a stake in their success,” said Gov. John Carney, a sentiment echoed by New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer who said the inmates he’s talked to are looking for careers, not jobs, to help them avoid returning to jail – a serious problem that all the public officials present agreed is a critical issue facing the state.
George, who had a big day Monday with the simultaneous release of his new book, “The Magic of The Red Carpet,” introduced a procession of speakers who offered a litany of either praise for George and his team’s efforts or announcements that complemented the main event.
- George said SCF signed an agreement to purchase a 72,000-square-foot building within a few blocks of the Bowers Street location. He told DBT after the event that he expects to close on the purchase by year-end and that it will exclusively be a hemp farm.
- University of Delaware Plant and Soil Science Department Chair Erik Ervin announced that the university was introducing a Sustainable Food Systems major; that it was conducting a national search for someone to lead the program; that the person will be based full-time at SCF; and that Nicole Gomez, a member of the SCF team, is the first enrollee in the program.
- State Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse, whose family members are farmers, called vertical farms “the future of agriculture” and will likely take over older poultry houses and other buildings across the state. He reinforced SCF’s receipt of a license from his agency to commercially grow hemp, which George has previously said offers an additional revenue stream and the ability to stay current in today’s agricultural marketplace.
- The opening of a CrossFit gym inside the building for SCF team members and the community.
“I was stunned by how many people joined us on a Monday afternoon at 1:45 p.m., in a neighborhood that many had likely never been in,” George said. “I expected 50 people, but we had more than 300 even though we only asked them to RSVP. I am also excited by the enthusiastic support of the governor and the other public officials who joined us; by the support from the University of Delaware; and by Secretary Scuse’s public statement that facilities like ours are the future of agriculture.”
Soliaman closed his introduction of the SCF candidates with a quote from Maimonides, one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages: “Hope is the belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable.”
It seemed like a fitting coda to the entire day.