Once the holiday season rolls around, the goodness in people really starts to shine. Organizations big and small start to collect toys, coats, mittens, and canned goods for those who are less fortunate. There are soup kitchens, warming centers, shelters, and food pantries to make sure no man, woman, or child goes cold or hungry.
Giving back to the community helps us all realize that the world is not such a bad place after all and reinforces our faith in humanity. The Mill Creek Urban Farm is one of those organizations that gives back year-round.
Mill Creek Urban Farm was founded by Albert B. Kelly, the President and CEO of Gateway Community Action Partnership. Mr. Kelly was raised in the former public housing project that is now the site of the farm, and wanted to make something useful for the community. According to their website, “The mission of Gateway Community Action Partnership, at large, is to provide services that improve the quality of life and promote self-sufficiency.” Here’s how they’re giving back:
One of Mill Creek Urban Farm’s goals is to educate the community. This farm is smack-dab in the middle of downtown Bridgeton. Built upon the site of a former public housing project, it now boasts five greenhouses that grow gorgeous produce year-round using hydroponic technology. School groups, summer camps, volunteers, and interns are able to learn the growing process from seed to harvest using three different methods of soil-free hydroponic farming.
The first method is Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). This practice involves rows of PVC pipes that circulate water through the plants’ roots.
The second method is Deep Water Culture that utilizes large rectangular bins filled with water and have plants arranged on a floating styrofoam platform.
The third method is the Bag System where larger crops, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, are planted in bags of coconut fibers and supported with ropes tied to the ceiling of the greenhouse structure.
All of these hydroponic techniques use 90 percent less water than traditional farming, making for an environmentally friendly system.
#2: Providing Fresh Food
Marcus Weaver, who is the Director of Agriculture & Food Initiatives, took me on a tour of the greenhouses at Mill Creek. While the December air was frigid, the warm and humid greenhouses were bursting with beautiful butterhead lettuce, rainbow chard, frilly mustard, kale, beet greens, watercress, tomatoes, cucumbers, edible flowers, and even Shiitake mushrooms! It was so refreshing to see something green during the cold, dark months. Imagine how someone facing food insecurity feels? Mill Creek Urban Farm provides fresh produce year-round to local soup kitchens, low-income seniors, and food pantries free of charge.
In fact, I ended up being contacted by Marcus to schedule a food pickup for my school’s food drive that collected over 1,500 pounds of non-perishable food items!
According to Marcus, “Sometimes the smallest things can make a big impact. I firmly believe that part of our purpose in life is to help our neighbors and to give a hand up to those less fortunate or privileged. To me, that concept is at the core of what this farm is all about.”
#3: Supporting People with Disabilities
Mill Creek Urban Farm relies heavily on volunteer efforts. Many of the wonderful helpers on the farm are people who have disabilities. These men and women are able to get out of their group homes to meet new people and have a meaningful work experience. Imagine the joy of getting to work around amazing fruits and vegetables each day, to know that you are a vital part of an operation that gives back to the community in so many ways. Want to become a volunteer? Visit gatewaycap.org to fill out an application!
It was such a great opportunity to see this farm up close. I left with a sense of knowing the world is full of good people. And now I’m ready to pay it forward! How will you be giving back?
(P.S. Not only did I get to see how hydroponic farming works, I got to to bring home some of that fresh produce. And, you know me, I had to make a delicious recipe with it! Check out my Shiitake Mushroom Flatbread. So. Darn. Good.)