House of Hope Builds A Production Farm To Feed Martin County's Most Vulnerable

Sep 24, 2019

Kayla Sinotte, Paul Meyer, (name coming), Rob Ranieri, and Elizabeth Barbella
Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan

On the corner of Citrus and 714 in Palm City, there is a big red barn called Palm City Farms Produce & Market sitting on about 20 acres of land. Look at little closer and you will see new with hydroponic and aeroponic greenhouses going up…a method of growing plants without soil.

RR: “Palm City Farms Market – Rob and Mary Dawson, a mother and son, they own all the land that you see around here…”

That’s Rob Ranieri, CEO of House of Hope, a non-profit organization that provides Martin County’s most vulnerable residents with food, clothing, financial assistance, education and referral.

RR: “And they came and said we’ve got no plans for this land. We know you are growing food. Do you want to really grow food?! So we actually have a 10 year lease for a dollar a year with the option to renew for ten more years at a dollar a year! So we’ll be here for a while!”

HOPE stands for Helping Others Progress through Empowerment. House of Hope already has several nutrition gardens throughout Martin County, however…

RR: This out here is straight up production. How much quality produce can we get and how fast can we get it. What drove us to this was quality. Growing food connects back to our food pantries and to our partners that have soup kitchens and how that impacts health and people’s ability to function at a higher level. Students are going to learn better. Adults are going to work better. 

Aeroponic Towers
Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan

We walk into a 2,700 square foot, screened-in greenhouse filled with aeroponic towers brimming with little green plants. Martin county native Kayla Sinotte is the Production Farm Supervisor. She gives us a tour.

KS: We’re growing leafy greens in our first zone so we have different kinds of lettuce like romaine and butterhead and summer crisp lettuce…. We have a lot of different Asian greens, herbs.. We have basil. We’ll do parsley, cilantro.

Before us stand 76 growing towers that can hold 4,000 plants.

KS: In these towers we have a sprinkler system.

The water going through is nutrient-rich and it’s reclaimed and recycled so there is little waste.

KS: Our roots of the plants are being misted and we have it going one minute every ten minutes.  It only takes about three weeks right now from when we are planting them in the cups to when we are able to harvest. It definitely shaves a couple of weeks off.

And the result is…

Kayla Sinotte
Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan

RR: Faster produce; richer, thicker, tastier and all that. So, the goal ultimately here will be to get this up to about 3,000 to 4,000 pounds a month coming off of here.

We come upon volunteer Paul Meyer…

TOC What are some of your jobs here? I see you have a drill…

(laughter)

PM: I do whatever they tell me to do! So, I have been helping install the towers and the plumbing so far. I haven’t done any harvesting yet. Mostly construction stuff.

Future plans for the land include planting a grove…

RR: Some fruit trees and berry bushes.

They plan to expand their additional hydroponic greenhouse… and add a packing house to process their own produce plus what is donated from other farms.

RR: Once we get the packing house built, we’ll process probably about 100,000 pounds or more of produce a year out here.

So, we wonder, who is paying for this modern food production farm?

EB: My name’s Elizabeth Barbella and I am the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Martin & St. Lucie. We inspire people that are in a place in life where they can give back and invest in our community and they do. And we connect them really important projects like this.

RR: If we can get the household healthy, a lot of other things can fall into place.

Learn more here: https://www.hohmartin.org/

Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan