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Community action, Stone Belt launch greenhouse project

November 4, 2014

Growing Opportunities groundbreaking photo

Community action, Stone Belt launch greenhouse project

By Jeff LaFave, Herald-Times
Reprinted with permission

Stone Belt CEO Leslie Green jokes that when she started working for the agency in 1979, the property’s trees were merely saplings.

Those trees have each since grown into full, mature branch bloom — and lost their leaves for this incoming winter. They welcomed their new neighbors Thursday as Stone Belt and the South Central Community Action Program broke ground on a 2,880 square-foot greenhouse in a frosty morning ceremony at the agency’s 2815 E. 10th St. property owned by Indiana University.

The greenhouse is the first of three planned within the community action program’s “Growing Opportunities” social business project, and is slated to open in spring 2015. It aims to supply job training useful for seeking employment in Bloomington’s growing local foods movement, as well as to emphasize much-needed soft skills for job areas such as horticulture, food service, restaurants and retail.

“I’ve always been a tree-hugger,” Green said. “A project like this is not only right up my alley on a personal basis, but it really helps Stone Belt to fulfill part of our mission to prepare and empower people with developmental disabilities to fully demonstrate in the community.”

Growing Opportunities says that 10 participants will be able to practice their skills in a fully-functioning greenhouse business, as well as receive classroom training in a 200-hour, 20-week course, offered twice a year. The fruits of their labor — which may actually include vegetables such as kale, swiss chard, basil, cilantro, parsley and several varieties of lettuce — will be sold to local restaurants, grocers and the public. The urban farm aims to grow produce year-round using hydroponics, which involves growing plants in water without soil.

The community action program also aims to play a public role of nutrition and food preservation education, where individuals of all income levels have access to food. “Hunger in Indiana is complicated,” said Nikki Wooten, Growing Opportunities project manager. “It is not just getting enough food, but getting the right food and making the right choices. Eating nutritiously is a struggle, especially for low-income people. ... By increasing knowledge of nutrition, cooking and hydroponic growing methods of herbs and leafy greens, our project will help to improve the consumption rate of these healthy, nutritious specialty crops among low-income people in Indiana.”

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture approved a $67,456 grant for Growing Opportunities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The community action program anticipates that Growing Opportunities will become financially self-supporting once it is operating three greenhouses, and is currently seeking additional funding for two more greenhouses to be located on the former Thomson manufacturing site, now owned by the Monroe County Commissioners.

“I cannot say enough about how much we appreciate our partners who have helped us get to this point,” Community action’s Executive Director Todd Lare said. “It has been challenging to find land and enough funding to get this greenhouse project off the ground.”

The community action program started developing its Growing Opportunities project more than two years ago based on a New Jersey community action agency called “Arthur & Friends,” which opened in 2008.