The Millionair Club Charity brings urban farming to Seattle

The Millionair Club Charity's Hydroponic Demonstration Garden.
The Millionair Club Charity’s Hydroponic Demonstration Garden.

In keeping with our mission of rebuilding the lives of men and women experiencing unemployment and homelessness in our community, we are proud to announce the launch of an Urban Farming Initiative to build Seattle’s first commercial hydroponic farms.

The program will provide fresh produce for local sale, as well as supply homeless individuals and families with donated fresh produce and create job training and employment opportunities in urban farming to participants in the organization’s jobs program.

In November we finished building our first 250-square-foot garden in the basement of the Millionair Club Charity. This fully operational hydroponic urban farm doesn’t need large tracks of land to grow quality crops. The garden right now grows salad greens using energy efficient LED grow lights and nutrient-rich water. We can grow about 800 plants per month, which can produce 1,600 bowls of salad per month or 19,200 bowls annually.

“Launching an urban farming program is an opportunity for the Millionair Club Charity to help address community need for year-round, fresh and local produce, while delivering on our mission to provide new employment and job training opportunities for people experiencing unemployment in this region,” said Jim Miller, executive director of the Millionair Club Charity.

We’ve partnered with UrbanHarvest, a Seattle-based for-profit urban farming business, to launch this program. The salad greens we produce will be served in our meals program, donated to partner nonprofit organizations and sold to local restaurants and businesses.

Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria has signed on as the program’s first customer.

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“This program is another opportunity to help support the work that the Millionair Club Charity is doing on a daily basis to help hundreds of individuals who are homeless or unemployed in Seattle,” said Joe Fugere, owner of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria. “And, we’re going to be serving fresh hyper-local produce grown just blocks away from the Westlake restaurant. It simply makes sense.”

Currently, we are growing butter lettuce, red oak leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and bok choy (Chinese cabbage). Ten percent of what we grow will be donated to programs that feed homeless individuals and families, including our own meals program that fuel our workers.

A hydroponic garden is great for the environment because it grows its plants more efficiently than traditional farmland. It uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil, uses as little as one-fortieth of the space of a traditional land farm and one-tenth of the amount of water.

“By growing and selling our produce within the Seattle urban area, our fresh greens will travel very short distances from farm to consumer, resulting in reduced transportation costs and lower CO2 emissions,” said Chris Bajuk, Millionair Club Charity Urban Farming Program Manager and founder of UrbanHarvest. “Our goal with this program is to create a new industry in Seattle around urban farming.”

Early visitors of the hydroponic garden have been impressed with what they’ve seen so far.

“I really enjoyed visiting the Millionair Club Charity’s new hydroponics project,” said Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles. “In fact, I am so impressed with the vision, significance and potential for it that I returned for a second visit. I’m also working to get funding included in the state capital budget as it brings so much into one project—urban farming, meals program and job development.”

In addition to urban farming, the Millionair Club Charity is launching other social enterprise programs in 2014 to provide larger pools of employment for unemployed men and women in the region. A janitorial service began in January.

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