BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — It may look like something out of science fiction, but the brightly-lit units are down to earth.
“It's experimental, it's new, it's futuristic,” said Rev. Sara Smith, executive director of Nourish Bridgeport. “It is the future of farming.”
It is a hydroponic farm that grows vegetables for Nourish Bridgeport, a nonprofit that provides food to direct those in need and to area food pantries.
It is one of the first in the country and the first in Connecticut to operate its indoor farm.
“We are very proud. We don't want to be the only, though,” Rev. Smith said. “I grew up on a 1,000-acre soil farm in Kentucky, and my generation of siblings is the first generation in 17 that are not farmers - and it always sort of pained me that my daddy was the last one.”
Not anymore, though. She is overseeing a farming process that keeps going, no matter what the weather is like outside.
“365 days a year, 24/7,” Rev. Smith said. “The plants grow while you and I sleep.”
That has turned out to be a boon to food pantries that can’t always easily get fresh produce this time of year – and who, lately, are struggling to keep up with the added demand because of inflation.
“Since June 1st, we've grown one ton of produce - and that's a heck of a lot of lettuce because it doesn’t weigh a lot,” Rev. Smith said. “Now, we're getting ready to have cucumbers and tomatoes, and we even have baby carrots.”
Lezli Albelo is one of six who work on the indoor farm full-time.
“I've had a lot of learning, reaching out to other farmers,” Albelo said. “Our nutrients are clean. The water is clean, our process is clean, and the staff wears gloves. So, it's making sure every process is clean throughout the whole time - and they're getting the most nutritious produce that's coming from us to the people that need it the most.”
Nourish Bridgeport began by applying for grants to get it all up and running.
“We got a grant a month before COVID hit, and it was called a ‘transformational grant.’ and they didn't want us to do the normal things. We have the largest food pantry in Bridgeport,” Rev. Smith said. “You know, we do all the foodstuff, but I thought, ‘Huh, what can we do?’’
That is how the transformational grant, along with other funding, transformed into the indoor farm. It also provides job training as they prepare to hire more people from the community to run the farm.
“I love to give them food, but if they can buy their own food, that's even better,” Rev. Smith said, “because then you have choice and dignity and pride and you get a paycheck.”
They get healthier food, too, which could make a difference in a community like Bridgeport, where diabetes and heart disease run rampant and the average age of death is a mere 60 years old.
“The joy of fresh, yummy food,” Rev. Smith said. “If I can get that in their hands and it becomes a prize in their hand that they will enjoy, and then that trickles down to their health - well, then our life here matters and our work here matters.”
It is one they are all harvesting together.