On a beautiful, sunny spring morning we gathered in the “rock quarry” – a small, outdoor amphitheater on the Sullivan Street Farm. Adjacent to Long Branch Baptist Church's Unity Park, the farm (which includes a greenhouse and gardens) was built in October 2012 with the help of over 50 volunteers from the neighborhood association, Long Branch Baptist Church and Grace Church. Sullivan Street is a part of Mill Village Farms.
The Upstate has its share of old mill communities which in modern times have become food deserts; residents have limited access to fresh, locally-grown produce. Mill Village Farms is one of the pioneer organizations in Greenville in combatting the dearth of healthy food in these neighborhoods, by establishing fruit and vegetable farms in these areas. Neighborhood interns and volunteers serve as community advocates, not only sharing the fresh grown produce with neighbors, but promoting physical activity and healthy eating, all the while helping manage storm water and increasing biodiversity.
We started our tour in the fenced in vegetable garden where onions, broccoli, chard and beets formed rows of green in the freshly turned brown soil. Compost had recently been added, produced on-site and easy to distinguish due to the black color of rich earth. The garden faces Sullivan Street, and has a beautiful gate and entrance to the community, while the greenhouse is closer to the playground; we crossed down to it next.
The greenhouse is powered by solar panels mounted at the entrance, the sunlight harnessed not only by the growing plants but also for the water pumps circulating the water in the hydroponic towers and for the fish. The aquaponic system has two levels of plants and a fish pond underneath; the fish fertilize the water circulated to the plants, which in turn clean the water for the fish, allowing for a double harvest!
|A peek at the fish - the pond is below the plants|
Hydroponics is the method of growing plants in water without soil. Plants may be grown with their roots in a mineral solution only, or in something like gravel, which is the preferred method on Sullivan Street. There are two different setups in the greenhouse, towers and tables. The towers rise vertically with spaces in the sides that hold plants, while the tables stretch horizontally, trays of lettuce and seedlings carpeting the surface. While there are several towers in the greenhouse, it is another Mill Village Farms location that is famous within Greenville for their hydroponic towers – the Rooftop Farm in downtown – and I hope to visit it someday as well.
|Seedlings growing hydroponically, basil growing in one of the towers, showing off the lettuce roots|
Our field trip concluded with a couple of short activities for the kids. Mikus planted a sprig of winter savory which is now sitting on our windowsill until the roots take, and the kids enjoyed drawing vegetables as they appear on the plant (Mikus drew mac ‘n cheese, a sign we are living in the South where it is considered a vegetable!). It was simple arranging the field trip, it was just a matter of contacting Mill Village through their website, and our teachers/guides were a wealth of information (and patience!). The trip was educational not only for the children, but also for the adults – I love visiting local farms and gardens because I always come away with ideas to apply to the gardens I work with.
Mill Village Farms is making an impression on the Upstate; they just opened their first “brick & mortar” Market over on Greenville’s west side, and the Mobile Market is making the rounds, bringing fresh produce to an every-growing customer base. The Mobile Market operates from May to October (the schedule can be found here), with their current product list posted here. You can swing by the west side location for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie in addition to fresh produce Monday through Saturday (hours here), and various educational opportunities are being offered including hydroponics classes on their Rooftop Farm – for more on those visit the Mill Village website. Thanks to Dan and Julia for a beautiful morning on the Sullivan Street Farm!
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