The core mission of the Food Grown Home project is to promote sustainable farming practices across Montgomery County, Maryland by empowering urban citizens to grow their own food—at home. Further, we aim to illustrate the viability of urban farming practices in alleviating food insecurity and nutritional scarcity, in addition to highlighting the economic and educational opportunities deriving from commitment to locally sourced food production.
It is possible to reimagine and transform our local food systems through the use of more sustainable farming methods such as indoor vertical farming and hydroponic growing systems. Our environment deserves better, and everyone deserves access to nutritious food.
The launch of the Food Grown Home Project in January 2021 was inspired by the critical food shortages that manifested during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. With thousands of individuals around the country arriving to receive food rescue packages, the cracks in our local food systems became all too clear. In partnership with the Audelia Community Response Team, FLS utilized leftover funding from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services to organize a food rescue program that served individuals experiencing food insecurity on a weekly basis throughout the darkest days of the pandemic.
In Spring 2020, Dr. Melman, executive director of FLS, worked closely with Sande Lee of Metro Green Style to discuss possibilities for expanding the food rescue initiative of FLS and teaching food-insecure families methods of growing their own nutrient-dense foods. Inspired by her conversations with Sande on sustainable urban agriculture and advocating for increased access to nutritious food, Dr. Melman searched for grants that would allow for the expansion of our food rescue initiatives and successfully obtained a grant from the Mead Family Foundation. This funding was essential to continuing our food rescue and piloting a Food Grown Home initiative that focused on building community and teaching youth about nutrition and healthy eating.
Throughout October, November, and December, the Food Grown Home team held multiple meetings to map out the scope of the project and discuss plans for implementation. In December, the Food Grown Home project officially began behind the scenes as FLS staff members were introduced to methods of growing nutrient-dense sprouts so that they would have the skills to instruct students at our partnered youth centers. In January, our first group of students was introduced to Food Grown Home sprout growing projects at the Gaithersburg City Youth Center. A few weeks later, FLS staff also began implementing Food Grown Home STEM growing projects in the Alive! Program in Silver Spring.
On February 4th, 2021, Food Grown Home publicly announced that we would be recruiting new households for our first cohort of Food Grown Home growers—the outpouring of support and enthusiasm we received was more than anything we could have expected. With over 220 total persons across Montgomery County interested in participating in our project and recognition from local news channels, we were thrilled to accept members into our first FGH cohort. Together, we grew the following crops at home through February-August: broccoli sprouts, radish sprouts, fenugreek sprouts, potatoes, oyster mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, green beans, and various breeds of spicy peppers. In the spring and summer months, another Gaithersburg youth center was incorporated into the Food Grown Home Project. In total, the first Food Grown Home pilot initiative was implemented within our adult growers cohort, two Gaithersburg City youth centers, one afterschool program in Silver Spring, and various food-insecure households served by our food rescue program.
As of November 2021, we are working with our adult cohort to grow a variety of indoor herbs throughout the winter and we have continued to implement Food Grown Home initiatives in the after-school programs of the Robertson Youth Center, Olde Towne Youth Center, and Briggs Chaney Middle School. Further, Food Grown Home has grown to include staff implementing Food Grown Home activities into the STEM program at Easterseals as well as student-led clubs within MCPS at Albert Einstein HS and James Hubert Blake HS. FLS has continued to support food rescue through our partnership with Clifton Park Baptist Church by helping them package and distribute healthy food to up to 500 families in the Silver Spring area 2-3 times per month.
Looking toward the future, Food Grown Home aims to cultivate a robust food-growing network that will allow us to donate fresh, nutrient-dense produce to local food rescue organizations and hubs in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg. Our board member Sande Lee (founder of Metro Green Style) and Assistant Creative Director Alexzander Baetsen have been instrumental in the implementation of this project.
"The Food Grown Home project is a futuristic take on today’s problems, promoting sustainability into the future and addressing the current food insecurity crisis. The project brings small-scale indoor farming to homes across Montgomery County."
- Randi Bass of WDVM Local News
On February 4th, 2021, we published a post on our social media pages announcing that that we were recruiting new households to participate in our innovative urban food-growing project. In the span of just seven days, we received over 65 applications and over 220 total persons interested in participating.
In our first Food Grown Home cohort, we served a total of 67 households with 223 participants, providing them with nutritionally-dense food growing kits, growing instructions, and sample curated recipes at no cost. After the completion of our first round of growing projects, we distributed a feedback survey to our participants and found that 84% of respondents reporting that they felt considerably more knowledgeable about growing their own food. Respondents also noted that food growing offered a meaningful bonding experience with their family during the pandemic and that they felt empowered by their newly developed horticulture skills. In addition to this cohort, FGH served over 100 MCPS students in four study centers (in-person) and at E. Brooke Lee MS (remote) to provide education on healthy, locally-grown food options and sustainable farming practices during after-school programs.
With over 300 total Food Grown Home participants across Montgomery County, we successfully cultivated a community of urban food-growers that will keep on growing!
Don't just take our word for it- Check out our Instagram page (@foodgrownhome) to see growing progress photos and homemade recipes incorporating home-grown produce that members of our cohort have submitted!
In November 2021, Food Grown Home partnered with the Easterseals Child development Center in Silver Spring, MD to further enrich their Pre-K STEM program. Alexzander Baetsen, Assistant Creative Director of Food Grown Home, has been collaborating with Center Director Shanelle Patterson to design meaningful food-growing lessons that promote critical thinking skills and help students build strong foundations for STEM education.
As of December 2021, the students have completed radish and broccoli sprout growing projects and are in the process of exploring oyster mushrooms as well as hydroponic growing methods. In the near future, we plan to expand to outdoor growing projects such as potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, and radishes; indoor herbs in containers; growing different crops with our hydroponic systems; and completing experiments on growing conditions for various projects.
To ensure that activities are developmentally appropriate, students will be guided through basic concepts about nutritious food-growing such as: how it is possible for plants to grow without soil; how plants receive nutrients; what plants need to grow; why healthy eating is important for our bodies; and how we can develop healthy eating habits. Further, students can learn more about observation as they watch their plants grow and how they can use what they know about plants to make predictions about how their plants will look as they develop (i.e., the scientific method broken down into small parts).
In addition to learning about STEM and food-growing concepts, students will have ample opportunities to gain skills in other important areas of development, such as improving their fine motor skills through the use of specific gardening tools and actions such as planting seeds; learning about personal responsibility through the assignment of classroom gardening ‘duties’; expanding their vocabulary in relation to plants, nutrition, and gardening; and enhancing their social skills by learning to take turns, share responsibility, and work together with their classmates to help their plants grow.
In partnership with the gardening club Food Grown at Einstein, Food Grown Home is excited to announce that on April 22nd, the first-ever aeroponic Tower Garden was established at Albert Einstein High School (AEHS). AEHS will be the first school in Montgomery County to partner with FGH to implement this futuristic aeroponic food-growing technology, which will enable students to learn more about sustainable farming practices and empower them with the ability to grow their own food.
Sponsored by Food Grown Home (FGH), the FGH-inspired gardening club ‘Food Grown at Einstein’ at Einstein HS was launched in Fall 2021 with the goal of encouraging student participation in gardening activities and raising awareness about environmental issues. Led by club president Miranda Gray, the club has been experimenting with growing fresh produce over the past several months using hydroponic gardening equipment such as the AeroGarden and IDOO countertop systems provided by FGH. With these systems, club members have been able to grow different varieties of lettuce and distribute their harvested crop to other students for a healthy addition of leafy greens to their lunches.
FGH has also provided the club with various sprouting seeds such as broccoli, radish, and fenugreek sprouts so that they can explore these mini-hydroponic activities as well. With the addition of this vertical Tower Garden, students of Einstein HS will now be able to grow a wider variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs, including lettuce, kale, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peas, beans, peppers, and basil.