Ellen Sabina’s Story
I didn’t exactly set out to be a farmer, and even now I’m hesitant to take on that title. I came to organic farming almost accidentally, just as a part-time job one summer during college, but it’s stuck with me in some form since then. Six years later, after farming apprenticeships sandwiched between non-profit nutrition and education work, I see my role as an organic grower not so much as a farmer, but as a means of sharing health and wellness, and as a vehicle with which to teach and empower. Over the past two years, the two worlds have merged and I have found myself growing food for local food banks in order to provide access to fresh, healthy, organic vegetables to those who need them most. The first year, I grew vegetables on a patchwork of land throughout the community—on the edges of farms and in swaths of community gardens. This year, the city has granted use of a perfect patch of land, and local funding enabled the raising of a greenhouse. For the first year, I plan to focus on growing a few things that food bank clients are familiar with—tomatoes and salad greens.
The only major (foreseeable, for this season) challenge is water/irrigation. Because I do not live on site, the most reliable and ideal system would be low flow drip irrigation on a timer. Given the size of our operation, we don’t need an extensive irrigation system, but would like something well made and reliable that will last for years. After talking to other greenhouse growers in the area, I’ve settled on a system from DripWorks. The cost is $234.17, but it will mean a much more efficient, and regular water for the greenhouse tomatoes, as well as better water conservation.
This mini-farm very directly benefits the surrounding community, literally putting fresh organic produce and plant starts in the hands of folks who would otherwise be unable to afford it, and who rely on the food bank for food. A little less directly, however, this little growing operation will serve as a teaching space, as well as a gathering space for members from all facets of the local community. The greenhouse and garden are conveniently located at the local community center, which is also home to childcare programs, the police station, the swimming pool, food bank, and other city and community activities. Every Wednesday we host work days, punctuated by a potluck-style lunch. Wednesday, which is also the only day that the food bank is open, will be the day that we hold classes about gardening and nutrition basics, i.e. container gardening, how to prepare unfamiliar vegetables like kale, etc.