The SoulFood greenhouse is one of the food-related ministries at the NorthPark Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. Volunteers work hard to put fresh tomatoes on the tables of those struggling to feed themselves, reports WFAA News on Dec. 17, 2020.
Food banks in America are struggling to feed hundreds of thousands ravaged during this time of record unemployment and recessed economy.
The church assists the Vickery Meadow food pantry and others. Keri McCall, the project manager at SoulFood, recalls a few years ago when she realized those who need food assistance had few fresh vegetables in their diets.
Since food banks most often receive non-perishable food items, clients’ diets typically consist of canned and boxed pasta-type foods. McCall believed she could help fill that gap.
“The vision for NorthPark’s SoulFood Greenhouse grew from the roots of its predecessor, the SoulPatch organic vegetable garden, which was started by church members Keri & Shannon McCall and the Visions Sunday School class in the spring of 2011,” according to the church’s website.
As trained engineers, the McCalls launched a plan to build a hydroponic greenhouse on the church’s grounds. After securing the proper zoning, the SoulFood greenhouse project moved forward.
McCall’s husband drew up plans for the greenhouse with a 20-foot ceiling. They designed an innovative system of movable single wire trellises that allow volunteers to train the tomato vines upward.
Using this cultivation method increases the crop’s yield. McCall explains why they chose the SoulFood greenhouse design:
We can grow five times as many plants in this space as we could outdoors.
Since SoulFood began, the church estimates the project has produced 25 tons of tomatoes — approximately 150,000 servings distributed to food pantry clients.
SoulFood Greenhouse Cultivation Practices Proven Effective
Another innovation implemented in the greenhouse is concentrating carbon dioxide levels to support dense plants. NASA explains CO2 effectiveness:
Studies have shown that higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide affect crops in two important ways: they boost crop yields by increasing the rate of photosynthesis, which spurs growth, and they reduce the amount of water crops lose through transpiration. During that process, they release water vapor.
Greenhouse volunteers feed the plants liquid fertilizer applied to the root. Hydroponics makes this simple as there is no soil to absorb the plant food before it reaches the roots.
Using a pink light gives the plants only the wavelengths of light they need the most — blue and red. Bathing the “tomato forest” allows plants to grow normally without the need for real sunlight or exorbitant electric costs when using high-powered sodium lighting.
McCall says, “By adding the pink light, I can get 30% more production.
Daily plant maintenance requires volunteers to prune the bottom leaves — coaxing the plant upward. Moreover, keeping the fruit clusters reduced to four tomatoes each optimizes the quality, and the fruit ripens it is harvested.
SoulFood Greenhouse Produce Feeds Food Deprived North Texans
Every Wednesday, the tomatoes are delivered to food banks by another part of the church’s food ministry, Reverse Food Truck, which collects and delivers food to North Texas food banks.
One of 24 plant-care volunteers, Barbara Seale told channel 8 News, feeding others is her heart. She said, “One of the very last things that Christ said was ‘feed my sheep’, and you know he said that three times. So that tells me it’s pretty darn important.”
The greenhouse’s pink light is sometimes visible from the highway. The SoulFood Greenhouse is a beacon of goodwill for hungry families in the greater Dallas area.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
WFAA8: Dallas church greenhouse grows hydroponic tomatoes for food pantries; by Byron Harris
NorthPark Presbyterian Church: Northpark Ministries
NASA: NASA Study: Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Will Help and Hurt Crops
Daily Mail: Are giant ‘pinkhouses’ the future of urban farming? Warehouses could be turned into year-round farms using artificial lights; by Mark Prigg
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Andrew Storms’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Louise McLaren’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License