Tackling a challenge like food insecurity takes fresh thinking and great partners. In the great St. Louis area, food insecurity is top of mind for those charged with ensuring the health of their urban community. United Healthcare Community Plan of Missouri recognized the challenge of many residents when it came to accessing fresh food. They saw an opportunity to provide a sustainable, innovative solution. Their solution was to partner with Fork Farms and donate two hydroponic vertical farms, Flex Farms, to a St. Louis area hunger-relief nonprofit, Operation Food Search.
Reducing Food Insecurity and Increasing Sustainability
Operation Food Search provides free food, nutrition education, and innovative programs to reduce food insecurity. The agency empowers families and increases access to healthy and affordable food. Each month, they provide food and services to 200,000 through a network of 330 community partners in 27 Missouri and Illinois counties. One of Operations Food Search’s core strategies is to increase access to fresh foods to support good health. This strategic alignment along with the extensive outreach of Operation Food Search made them an ideal impact partner for growing with the Flex Farms.
Jamie Bruce, CEO of United Healthcare Community Plan of Missouri recognized the benefits of growing fresh food in the community. “We love how vertical farming creates a sustainable year-round supply of fresh vegetables for our community. If we can reduce food insecurity and improve overall nutrition for Missourians, everyone wins.”
Food As Medicine
The produce from the two hydroponic vertical farms is distributed directly to families enrolled in Operation Food Search’s Fresh Rx program. The program approaches food as medicine that has a very real impact on health outcomes. By providing food and nutrition, Fresh Rx prevents many of the health effects and high costs caused by food insecurity.
Each hydroponic vertical farm can serve up to 1,900 families per year with a harvest of nearly 3,400 plants. The low operating cost of the vertical farms makes the produce incredibly affordable for the program, costing less than $1 per pound. For Operation Food Search, this means $5,488 annual savings in fresh food costs.
“We’re really focused on looking at local food access and sustainability,” states Trina Ragian Director of Policy and Innovation at Operation Food Search. “We’re looking at ways to get more fresh, particularly fresh and local, produce into the hands of all of the community residents. Hydroponics is a really energy-efficient way for us to start building that capacity.”
Future of Fresh Food
Operation Food Search plans to expand its program and distribute hydroponically grown produce to programs, pantries, and their Metro Market. They are also exploring potential new partnerships within St. Louis that want to support the power of fresh greens through hydroponics and education within their community.
Author: Megan Pirelli, Brand Content Director Fork Farms
Publish Date: 2022