Food Pantry Tells Clients: Grow It Yourself!

New programs have recipients farming their own edibles.

Pantries in New York City are inviting clients to grow their own greens. (Muffet/Creative Commons)
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Brooklyn-based food pantry manager Robin Sirota informed the NY Daily News matter-of-factly last week, "I'm not a farm kind of girl. I'm a social worker."

But as someone who feeds the hungry, her title doesn't make much of a difference. Soon, "social worker" and "farm girl" will be one and the same.

Sirota was referring to a new trend popping up in New York City: food pantry organizers inviting clients to grow their own edibles. Indoors. The pantry where Sirota works, Los Sures, is gearing up to turn the facility's windowless basement into a 400-square-foot indoor farm.

It's not the likeliest spot for a batch of fresh food to grow, but that hasn't stopped other pantries.

One such place, the Child Development Support Corp (CDSC), located in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, has already paved the way for pantries looking to make the switch from the usual fare. Goodbye boxed, canned, and plastic-wrapped non-perishables, hello to fresher, healthier options. 

Mireielle Massac runs the program, overseeing operations as clients get their hands dirty harvesting plants in a 250-square-foot farm they built in 2011.

With the help of a $24,000 grant from United Way, Massac and her team have amassed an impressive veggie farm, replete with rows of lettuce, baby bok choy, and collard greens. CDSC is the first non-profit organization in central Brooklyn to host a hydroponic farm. Its food pantry serves approximately 10,473 families annually.

Clients also learn about hydroponic growing techniques—a method that relies on nutrient-rich water and flourescent lights to grow plants and requires no sunlight or soil—so they can grow food at home, regardless of available green space.

More than just a food pantry, the CDSC aims to "provide programs that empower families by helping them to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for successful living in today's society." So far, their mission seems to be working.

"People feel very passionate about this farm," Massac told NY Daily News. "They're eating better. Their children are eating better."

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