Former New Castle juvenile detention center transformed into urban farm

Pennsylvania

They have a traditional outdoor garden and an indoor food laboratory where they grow lettuce for meals for children in their early childhood education program

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (WKBN) –– “Farming of the future.” That’s what one man calls what’s going on at the old juvenile detention center in New Castle.

First News reporter Desirae Gostlin took a tour of their urban farm. Lawrence County Social Services took over the site in Lawrence County a few years ago, and they have been renovating it.

One of their initiatives to get to kids eating healthier foods and they do that by teaching them how to grow food.

They have a traditional outdoor garden and an indoor food laboratory where they grow lettuce for meals for children in their early childhood education program.

This room can produce enough lettuce to feed 425 students. It can take several hours to harvest this room when it’s fully grown, somewhere around 40 to 50 pounds of greens.

“A lot of our kids think that food comes from the dollar general or the super market. They don’t understand how the process of food works,” said Kristen Green, a representative from Lawrence County Social Services. “So to teach them agriculture — to teach them things they can do at home to make healthy decisions with their eating. That will influence so much of their lives.”

Good nutrition is essential in children who are pre-school aged. Healthy eating is linked to increased brain function and development.

The produce doesn’t just go to feed children. It is also donated to the community through meal boxes to help the elderly and poor.

Many of these growing units were purchased through grant money from the USDA and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

These greens are grown completely without soil through a hydroponics system, and they don’t need to use pesticides because it’s inside.

The seeds are planted in a natural fiber, placed in a slot on the tower, and they just grow. The roots grow straight down into the water which has a nutrient solution the plants need to grown.

The lettuce grows at the same rate or faster than outside and they aren’t limited by the seasons. With this method, you can grow food pretty much anywhere.

“This could be a warehouse in downtown Pittsburgh. This could be where the steel mill once sat in Youngstown. They could be growing fresh vegetables,” said Dale Chappell, a horticulture consultant. “The children we serve are very young. Some are 3 or 4 years old and in their lifetime they could be using this technology to grow food on Mars or the international space station.”

This summer they will start their agricultural program as a test drive. In the fall children from all over Lawrence County will be able to take a field trip to the farm.

They hope that when schools come to visit they might be inspired to start a lab on their campus.

Expansion of this technology could lead to a more sustainable way of feeding children all over America with fresh, local produce.

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