It started small, with 20 elementary schools eating fresh local lunch every Thursday. Now, San Diego Unified School District’s farm-to-school menus are being served up at over 220 schools in the district to 132,000 kids. The ultimate goal is to have all 26 million meals a year be fresh, local and made from scratch, and district officials believe it can be done.
“We were able to grow the program rapidly,” says Tara McNamara, marketing coordinator for the district’s Food and Nutrition Services department. “We started last October at 20 elementary schools, and that expanded to 60 by the end of last school year. Now we’ve got 225 at the beginning of this year.”
Five years ago, with no farming experience, Pierre Sleiman founded Go Green Agriculture. Today, the Encinitas, California company is one of the largest organic hydroponic operations in the United States.
Go Green Agriculture, last featured in Seedstock here, grows a variety of certified organic crops hydroponically in its five-acre greenhouse. They include Butter Lettuce, Red Salanova lettuce, basil, and watercress.
Not only was Sleiman embarking on a new adventure when starting Go Green Agriculture — he was also leading the charge in large-scale hydroponics. Because there was a lack of established standards and best practices to guide organic hydroponics farmers, Sleiman became involved in the regulatory side of things by lobbying USDA and other organizations.
In addressing homelessness with an aquaponics training program, Solutions Farms provides an opportunity for families to regain not only their financial footing and place in the community, but also their security and happiness. Solution Farms is a program that was created by Solutions for Change, a Vista, California-based nonprofit established in 1999 to address local family homelessness in innovative ways.
Kevin Gorham is the aquaponics specialist at Solution Farms. He came to the initiative with little experience, but plenty of enthusiasm.
“I heard about this place being built, so I drove over here and introduced myself. I just kept bothering them and telling them I’d like a job here. Once the system was up and going, they hired me to stay on and help manage and run it,” says Gorham. “I learned a lot more through my hands-on experience working here over the last three years.”
Urban agriculture is thriving in San Diego, thanks in part to Seeds@City Urban Farm, a working farm in downtown San Diego that serves as an outdoor classroom for San Diego City College’s sustainable urban agriculture program.
Seedstock caught up with Damian Valdez, an urban farmer at the downtown San Diego farm, to see how the farm has progressed in recent years and what’s in store for it in the future.
Have you been able to boost production on the farm? If so, how?
We’ve been cataloging everything and collecting data because we’ve been expanding. We went from a garden setting into being more production-focused. What makes it difficult for us to keep the numbers as accurate as possible is that I’m only paid 25 hours to be there. So even though we try to weigh everything that leaves the farm, we’re not always able to harvest everything off the farm. So for us, making sure that we get things to market is rather difficult. Sometimes we’re losing a lot of poundage that just goes back into compost or gets donated.
Established in 2008, Urban Plantations was one of the nation’s first edible landscaping companies. Offering year-round organic gardening and landscaping services to corporate, residential and assisted-living clients, this small company of 11 continues to grow while providing jobs and quality organic food to residents in the San Diego area.
“We were one of the first of our kind. When we started the business, there was no model for us to pull from. We were, I feel, like true entrepreneurs. We weren’t starting a dry cleaning business or something like that. We had to figure out how to market a business that didn’t really exist,” says Karen Contreras, founder, president and CEO of the company.