Operation Food Search now has its own indoor farming operation.
The organization has received two Flex Farms, which are hydroponics units that can grow various leafy greens and herbs. The vertical indoor farms cost $5,000 each and were donated to the nonprofit by UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Missouri and Fork Farms, an agriculture technology social enterprise based in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Flex Farms can grow up to 25 pounds of produce per month, and require a minimum of only two hours of care per month. The energy-efficient Flex Farms operate with a standard electrical outlet, occupy less than 10 square feet of space and use zero pesticides and herbicides. Each farm can serve up to 1,900 families per year with a harvest of nearly 3,400 plants, which will specifically be going to OFS's Fresh Rx program to provide nutritious meal kits for expectant parents.
"One of the arms of our work that we're really focused on is looking at local food access and sustainability," says Trina Ragain, director of policy and innovation at OFS. "We're really looking at ways to get more fresh, particularly fresh and local, produce into the hands of all of the community residents that are a part of any of our programs. And so, we're really looking at ways to do that. And hydroponics is a really energy efficient way for us to start building that capacity."
Currently, the Fresh Rx program has aligned its menus with the growing cycles so that participants will be able to make recipes with produce picked that day. And given the low operating cost of the units, the produce is incredibly affordable, coming in at about $1 a pound.
"Once we understand the time commitment and what we can get out of these units, it will really help us decide how to grow in the area of hydroponics and sustainably producing more fresh vegetables for the families," Ragain says.
You can follow the growth of produce in Siri and Demi – the names given to the two units, inspired by the Roman and Greek goddesses of agriculture – on OFS's Facebook page.
Operation Food Search, operationfoodsearch.org