A sound familiar to all firefighters can be heard in the common room at Station 21 of South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) – flowing water. However, the sound might not be coming from something you’d typically associate with firefighters. The water is flowing through an indoor hydroponic farm. Every month the firefighters at Station 21 are growing their own fresh food in a Flex Farm.
SMFR is the largest fire emergency service in Colorado. Their territory spans 300 square miles in Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson counties. With 30 stations in the south metro area, SMFR provides emergency and prevention services to approximately 540,000 residents and thousands more who travel into their communities each day.
FIREFIGHTERS AS HYDROPONIC FARMERS
Why are firefighters in Colorado moonlighting as farmers? Firefighters have one of the most physically and mentally demanding jobs. Their overall wellness is crucial when it comes to their ability to perform in often dangerous and stressful situations. Having access to nutritious food and understanding nutrition is important to a firefighter’s overall wellness. This helps them create and maintain healthy eating habits that support firefighter training, work demands, fitness goals, and long-term health. SMFR understands this and has invested in the well-being of their firefighters by establishing a comprehensive Wellness Program.
Garrett Stowall, a firefighter at Station 21 leads the indoor hydroponic farm initiative for SMFR. He first heard about Flex Farms through a connection with the Milwaukee Fire Department, who uses the indoor hydroponic farms as a point for community engagement. The Milwaukee stations grow fresh food in the Flex Farms and then donate to local hunger relief organizations. Garrett saw an opportunity to bring that type of hydroponic farming experience to his station and community.
PILOT HYDROPONIC FARM PROGRAM AT STATION 21
The decision to start with one Flex Farm at Station 21 is to test to see if there is enough buy-in from the firefighters to maintain and consume the produce grown in the hydroponic farm. So far, the results have been very promising. Garrett admits there was some skepticism among the team at first. However, that quickly vanished once they saw their lettuce crop growing on the hydroponic farm. The conversation turned from doubt to curiosity and enthusiasm.
To start, the firefighters at Station 21 have incorporated hydroponically grown greens into their common meal schedule. They hope by doing this, it introduces the greens in a way that isn’t disruptive to their day-to-day, while encouraging them to think of other ways to incorporate fresh produce into their diets, such as adding a side salad to a meal. With their hydroponically grown basil, they are already thinking creatively about recipes such as pesto that they can use in-house and give to other stations for them to try. Kelcey Bailey, the Performance Nutritionist for SMFR is also developing nutrition plans and new recipes using the greens to boost the nutrition of their regular meals.
A PHASED APPROACH TO EXPANDING HYDROPONIC FARMING
The Flex Farm at Fire Station 21 is a pilot program for SMFR. The goal is to bring indoor farms into every fire station to provide a continuous supply of fresh, nutritious food to support the wellness of the firefighters. But it won’t end there. Like the Milwaukee stations, SMFR hopes to produce enough fresh food to supply their wellness program and engage with their community through donations to local hunger relief organizations. In collaboration with other stakeholders in SMFR, Garrett outlined a three-phase approach to this program.
Phase 1: Learning how to farm with the Flex Farm. Demonstrate that the Flex Farm grows plenty of fresh food to support all the firefighters at one station.
Phase 2: Share the results and build community buy-in around firefighters growing their own food, at their stations, to encourage donations for additional Flex Farms.
Phase 3: Purchase enough Flex Farms to support the station and provide regular donations to hunger relief organizations throughout SMFR territory.
They also hope to include the community in their indoor hydroponic farming program by engaging with local schools to have students see the farms and learn about what they are doing with the fresh food.
Overall, the firefighters at Station 21 are enthusiastic about their new roles as hydroponic farmers. They have found the Flex Farm to be easy to maintain and it doesn’t add another thing to their already busy schedules. The Flex Farm has inspired them to focus more on healthy eating and to be creative with their cooking. With a couple of leafy green harvests under their belt, Garrett and the team now are looking to experiment with different varieties such as cilantro, cherry tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. They are well on their way to harvesting delicious ingredients to make a fiery salsa!
Author: Megan Pirelli, Brand Content Director