SCHENECTADY — The freshly-laid slab of concrete next to the City Mission may not look like much now.
But soon, it’ll be home to a shipping container teaming with fresh lettuce.
The “freight farm” is a partnership between the City Mission and SEFCU in an attempt to address food insecurity while at the same time, teaching participants new skills through a social enterprise.
SEFCU has been fighting food insecurity for years through campaigns like “No Neighbor Hungry,” which recently raised $314,000 for non-profits to feed their clients.
“While we’ve fed literally thousands and thousands of people, the demand continues to get worse, and in the COVID era, it’s absolutely unprecedented,” said SEFCU President and CEO Michael Castellana.
Yet providing food to pantries isn’t a long-term fix that will solve hunger, he acknowledged.
“Let’s try to grow our way out of this problem, and that’s where the hydroponic concept came from,” Castellana said.
The concept is simple:
SEFCU has secured a 40-foot shipping container. After it’s installed and retrofitted into a vertical hydroponics farm outside of the City Mission’s Hamilton Street complex, clients will grow hydrophobic lettuce year-round.
Once production is ramped up, the operation is expected to produce 600 to 700 heads of lettuce every week.
The operation is relatively uncomplicated, using LED lights and smartphone apps to monitor soil nutrient levels.
“It is self-contained and relatively low-maintenance,” Castellana said.
Produce that cannot be used at the City Mission will be marketed, and ideally sold, to local restaurants by participants as part of a second-phase of the effort, as well as distributed to community organizations.
SEFCU has some experience with the concept, having operated a pilot project at their Albany headquarters, as well another at the Boy & Girls Clubs of the Capital Area in downtown Troy.
“The benefits were obvious for them,” Castellana said. “They were able to grow and wholesale to local businesses.
“It checked the boxes of supporting the organization financially and changing lives.”
Castellana said growing heads of lettuce won’t produce an end to food insecurity, but is part of a broader solution that pairs components of dignity, social enterprise as well as sustainability for the City Mission.
City Mission Executive Director Mike Saccocio called it a “double blessing.”
“We want to go from crisis to culture,” Saccocio said.
Officials expect the shipping container to be delivered sometime this month.