Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News
Mireille Massac grows vegetables to help feed the needy who come into the food pantry.
A Bedford-Stuyvesant food pantry built an indoor farm where clients grow fresh produce year-round — and provide vegetables for hundreds of families a week.
“People feel very passionate about this farm; they’re eating better,” said
Mireille Massac, who runs the food pantry and farm at Child Development Support Corp., where clients learn hydroponic growing techniques that don’t require sunlight or soil. “Their children are eating better.”
At the Classon Ave. social service agency, the weekly harvest delivers dark-leaf lettuce, bok choy, and collard greens.
Brooklyn is in the grip of an urban farming craze.
Grow-your-own is going strong, from rooftop gardens to massive plantings at public high schools.
Massac has given the trend a new twist by turning to horticultural practices that dates back to the Biblical Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The farm has pantry clients making changes in their eating habits, Massac said: “They come with a different attitude; it’s all about healthy eating.”
Clients do the harvesting on Thursday mornings, minutes before the pantry opens.
They take workshops on how to grow greens hydroponically at home. Last year they built the 250-square-foot farm under the direction of hydroponics expert Lee Mandell, owner of Boswick Farms in Bushwick.
The lush pantry farm in a ground-floor space has been producing food since May.
In the indoor oasis, row after row of romaine and red Grand Rapids lettuce poke through holes in styrofoam boards floating in water-filled, rubber-lined wood boxes. Bok choy plants sprout yellow flowers and collard greens grow on thick stalks.
The water is enriched with nutrients that feed the plants. Fluorescent light panels hanging inches overhead replace sunshine. Fans blow artificial breezes because plants that grow against the wind become stronger.
The farm came to be after a board member Damon Wadsworth suggested hydroponics to help out the pantry, which serves about 1,000 families per month.
Massac won a one-year, $ 24,000 grant from United Way to get the pantry’s farm up and running.
Several other pantry managers in Brooklyn, Queens and the South Bronx are in talks with Mandell about finding funding to try out hydroponics.
In the southside section of Williamsburg, the food pantry at social service agency Los Sures, will start building a 400-square foot indoor farm this week.
It was news to Los Sures pantry manager Robin Sirota that the windowless basement housing the South 3rd St. pantry was a suitable setting for growing salad greens.
“I’m not a farm kind of girl,” said Sirota. “ I’m a social worker,”