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Question marks over Redemption Farm plan as farming dropped from name

Redemption Farm: government-owned arable land in Devonshire is cleared in 2018 (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A farming programme billed as a lifeline for troubled young people to get away from gang activity has dropped any reference to agriculture from its name.

A source familiar with the programme, run by the Ministry of National Security on government-owned arable land at Prospect in Devonshire, said that Redemption Farm, which launched in 2019, had been “minimal at best” in terms of produce.

Leroy Bean, who heads the ministry’s Gang Violence Reduction Taskforce, gave passing reference to Redemption Farm during a town hall meeting last week, when he said it had phased into the Redemption Programme “about a year ago”.

The farming scheme was unveiled in 2018 by the national security minister at the time, Wayne Caines.

Mr Caines then described a rehabilitation scheme where young men at risk of falling prey to gangs would be steered from antisocial behaviour through working the earth.

Redemption Farm was billed as an organic farming project offering “therapeutic exercise that will not just be a farm”, Mr Caines said.

The concept included plans for a chicken farm that would produce low-cost eggs and generate wages for participants.

Mr Caines called it “a phenomenal opportunity not just for the people in the programme, but for the community leaders as well”.

He said the plan was for the young people enrolled to sow and harvest crops and bring the produce to market.

Three acres of hillside fields in woodland leading into Orange Valley were said to have been earmarked for the scheme by the Ministry of Public Works.

Planting of crops was announced in the House of Assembly in July 2019, marking the launch of the programme.

MPs heard that December of a first harvest of vegetables at Redemption Farm.

But subsequent references to the programme focused on work opportunities.

The source who spoke with The Royal Gazette after Mr Bean’s remarks said: “Nothing has been worked with the land there for quite a while.

“There was no networking with local farmers.” He added: “As taxpayers, what did we get?”

The source added that government funding had been allocated for Redemption Farm, and that there were “numbers being put to the media about production and young men involved in gangs”.

He added: “What happened with it? What was the outcome? Your guess is as good as mine.”

Redemption Farm was billed as a vocational and agricultural programme since its launch, and in his remarks at the Bailey’s Bay Cricket Club last Tuesday, Mr Bean made reference solely to employment.

“We have what we call the Redemption Programme,” Mr Bean told the meeting, which was called to outline work by the ministry to tackle violence in the community.

“It was called the Redemption Farm — we changed it about a year ago to Redemption Programme.

“What the Redemption Programme does is we provide individuals with jobs that are in the community.

“Last year it was about 18, 16 people, and what we do is get job placements with an agreement with employers that if these individuals do well and provide the services they are asking for, they will hire them full time.”

The switch in terms to “Redemption Programme” appeared in remarks made in February 2021 by Renée Ming, Mr Caines’s successor as minister, who said a new cohort of trainees had started the previous year.

Ms Ming also said in June last year that 13 trainees with the Redemption Programme had been placed with “various local businesses around the island to complete 30-week work placements”.

While she subsequently made occasional reference to the programme as a “farm”, further mentions pertained only to jobs rather than agriculture.

Ms Ming resigned in March, with Michael Weeks holding the portfolio since April.

The Gazette asked the ministry on Thursday when the farming component of the programme had been shelved.

No response was received as of press time last night.

A visit by the Gazette to the location of the former Redemption Farm over the weekend found squash and sugar cane growing at scattered sites in the area.

Much of the open space did not appear to be in recent agricultural use.

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Published June 27, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated June 26, 2022 at 11:32 pm)

Question marks over Redemption Farm plan as farming dropped from name

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