Wilmington farm that trains former prisoners gets visit from US Cabinet officials Carson, Barr

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, left, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson tour the Second Chances Farms facility in Wilmington on Monday morning. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

WILMINGTON — U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Attorney General William Barr Attorney visited Second Chances Farm on Monday morning and left Delaware impressed.

The business employs persons released from prison, offering a 16-week training program covering hydroponic farming, followed by a yearlong Entrepreneur-In-Residence program.

Second Chances Farm is the first commercial, indoor hydroponic farm in Delaware, according to officials.

Secretary Carson liked the innovative nature of the business model that’s “involving people, the employees on the ground floor so they can actually participate in entrepreneurial endeavors, they can learn what it is to run a business and how to run a business so that when they go out they have marketable skills …”

The most recent session began Sept. 8 with 36 trainees, including 24 men and 12 women, 18 Blacks, 16 whites and two Latinos ranging in age from 23 to 70. Three have already taken leadership roles.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson answers a question from the media at the Second Chance Farms facility in Wilmington as U.S. Attorney General William Barr looks on. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Trainees are not without continuing challenges coming with release, and AG Barr said “What impresses me about (Second Chances Farm) is that it’s not just an employer but it also can specialize and is attentive to special needs of its work force.

“Anything from continuing problems with drugs or how to resist drugs to practical problems about giving the proper documentation so they can function in society.”

The program is focused on reducing recidivism through acquiring skills that can yield stable employment. Qualified returning citizens earn $31,200 annually for the 52-week program, plus medical and other benefits.

Second Chances Farm described its mission as nurturing people, plants and the planet. It’s stated vision includes:

• To reduce recidivism by helping to transform returning citizens into entrepreneurs, or that the organize describes as “agri-preneurs.”

• To help lift people out of poverty by providing green-collar jobs and a living wage.

• To grow clean, nutritionally dense, pesticide-free produce indoors in a controlled environment, 365 days a year.

• To reduce the carbon footprint by selling its product locally, thus shortening distribution chains and eliminating the need for long-haul shipping.

Secretary Carson said Second Chances Farms was mentioned in the Opportunity Zones best practices report earlier this year. More information is available online at opportunityzones.hud.gov.

Second Chances Farms, a certified minority enterprise, is located in one of Delaware’s Opportunity Zones designed to spur the private sector to invest in downtrodden areas where low-low income communities exist. The zones were created through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

AG Barr said he was impressed that there’s “not only this business here but (a) charter school, a housing community, things that have a ripple effect.”