By Sean LaBombard.
By the time summer rolls around, most Southeastern Massachusetts gardeners are starting to see some fresh results from their weeks of hard work during the spring. Tomatoes follow peas and beans as the summer weeks march along, and gardeners have been adding homegrown greens and peppers to salads or taco nights long before the cool fall nights start to close out the New England growing season. However, for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro South (BGCMS), the growing season now has no end with the recent addition of a new Freight Farm Greenery ™ container at their Camp Riverside property in Taunton.
A Freight Farm Greenery™ is a shipping container capable of sustaining vertically-grown gardens regardless of exterior conditions. It comes complete with LED lights and a climate control system that maintains perfect 70°F spring weather all year long. In addition, the hydroponic system is capable of supporting up to 13,000 plants simultaneously while using an average of only five gallons of water per day. The hydroponic system provides the crops with just the right amount of water needed, at each stage of their growth. Gutters capture and return excess water back into the system. One Greenery™ is capable of growing a number of different plants; from lettuces and leafy greens to herbs and edible flowers. It is even possible to grow some root vegetables. The team at Freight Farm also created state-of-the-art software that can detect and manage variables like pH levels, temperatures, humidity within the container, and nutrient levels of the plants. One container can deliver crops that would need 3.5 acres if grown on land.
So how does this all fit into the mission of BGCMS? Actually, it fits perfectly, in several ways. First, the Greenery™ will provide sustainable fresh food for the children who rely on the Clubs. (BGCMS operates clubhouses in Brockton and Taunton.) BGCMS serves nutritious dinners to youth at both Clubs throughout the academic year, as well as both breakfast and lunch during the summer, with a main goal in mind: that no member of the Club who wishes to eat ever leaves hungry.
“Our Kids Cafe Healthy Meals Program has been a staple of our Boys & Girls Clubs programming for over a decade,” says Monica Lombardo, Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer at BGCMS. The amount of support the Clubs provide is widespread and the numbers are staggering; roughly 400 meals daily, 7,500 meals monthly, and over 100,000 annually. “I think our goal was always ‘how do we continue to get more fresh produce on the plates of our kids?’” says Lombardo, and the Freight Farm Greenery™ will fit in perfectly with their Healthy Lifestyles programs.
In addition to providing fresh produce for all of those meals, the Greenery™ will also create a multitude of learning opportunities. Youth will be able to experience and learn first-hand what it’s like to grow and enjoy their own healthy meals. “It’s all about establishing healthy habits and having kids understand why you should eat healthy and what that does for you,” Lombardo explains. “I think the Freight Farm Greenery™ is going to help them to have such a tangible concept of how easy it is to grow your own food.”
Previously, BGCMS had a few vertical gardens and some small outdoor raised beds, but the focus was more on learning. Now with the Freight Farm container, they can expand the learning opportunities while sustaining their meal program. “We were looking for an opportunity to support our own in-house meals programs, coupled with some really great educational opportunities for our kids to participate in,” continues Lombardo. “We also really wanted to be able to support other organizations who are doing incredible work in this space.” The Greenery™ will allow children to see the full circle, from seedlings to adult plants to their dinner plates.
While the Freight Farm Greenery™ had been just a pie-in-the-sky idea for two or three years, the Covid pandemic and the strain it put on families made that idea come to fruition. One of the many things that Covid has done is bring new attention to food insecurity, especially in communities that had previously experienced food insecurity as a chronic problem. With the addition of the farm, BGCMS can be sure that no future crisis will stop them from providing healthy, nutritious meals to the children they serve in the local communities of the South Shore. Furthermore, the Freight Farm Greenery™ will not only support the BGCMS meals programs, but any additional crops that are grown will be donated to local food shelters.
And they’re not stopping there. BGCMS is committed to obtaining a second container farm that would open opportunities for volunteer work in the community and further assist and help address food insecurities in the Metro South area. “We’re committed to finding the resources to make that happen. We want kids to have year-round access, especially in Brockton, to this rich educational opportunity,” Lombardo says. “Our goal for a second one would be, instead of supporting just our own in-house feeding program, to support a lot of the incredible feeding programs around the city and provide them with free produce.”
What started as a goal to be more sustainable within their own programs has turned into the possibility of not only achieving their first goal but adding another: bolstering other programs and food-insecure communities in the area. “We think there’s a wealth of opportunity to engage some folks and would love to open it for community educational events,” concludes Lombardo.
As we wait to see how “high” in the sky the Freight Farm Greenery™ vertical garden idea will go, the one certainty is that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro South will continue to support and sustain food-insecure families throughout the area wherever they can. Operating under an “Open Door” policy where members can visit the Clubs as often as they want or need, BGCMS serves more than 2,000 boys and girls ages 4 to 18 each year. The Freight Farm container will help to further their mission “to nurture strong minds, healthy bodies, and community spirit through youth-driven, high-impact programs in safe and fun environments.”
Photos: Courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro South
Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro South (Corporate Offices)
19 Court Street, 2nd Floor
Taunton, MA 02780
Sean LaBombard is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring, eating, drinking, and experiencing everything that Massachusetts has to offer. When he’s not writing, he spends his time reading, cooking, home-brewing, and hanging out with his quickly growing family.