Hydroponics Comes To Seton Harvest
Before the first vegetable ripened in its fields on Evansville’s West Side, of the Daughters of Charity’s Seton Harvest Ministry had provided enough fresh vegetables – grown on-site – for 500 meals. Hydroponics has come to Seton Harvest – thanks to the Healthy Harvest Partnership with Ascension Health’s St. Vincent Evansville and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and a grant from the Wellborn Baptist Foundation.
Hydroponics is a method of growing food without soil. Plants are exposed to normal nutrients that are suspended in water, and Seton Harvest held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 17 to formally open a new greenhouse that is devoted to hydroponics. The ministry is partnering with St. Vincent Evansville and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, using funds from a Wellborn Baptist Foundation grant to support healthy eating and active living. The financial support is known as the HEAL Grant.
“God has blessed us with the Daughters of Charity and their ministry in Evansville,” said Dan Parod, President of Ascension Health’s southern region. “We are grateful for the Wellborn Baptist Foundation’s support through the HEAL Grant, and we are grateful to partner with Seton Harvest and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on the Healthy Harvest Program.”
In 2017, the Welborn Baptist Foundation, Inc., awarded the HEAL Grant of $125,024 to St. Vincent Evansville to launch the Healthy Harvest program.
Since that time, the grant-supported Seton Harvest’s construction of the greenhouse and hydroponic system, which will allow for year-round growth of produce. Seton Harvest’s new greenhouse and hydroponics system are expected to produce 6,000-7,000 pounds of fresh produce each year. This, coupled with Seton Harvest’s traditionally-farmed, naturally-grown produce, will allow the farm to exceed its previous harvests by an estimated 50 percent in 2018.
Daughter of Charity Sister Theresa Peck is the chair of the Seton Harvest board, and she has been involved since the beginning of the program. Its first growing season occurred in 2006. “God has blessed us every step of the way,” she said, as she provided a brief history of the ministry.
Sister Theresa said that a priority of the community-supported initiative has always been to donate 15-20 percent of all the fresh food grown on the farm to those in need. Excess produce is distributed by the Seton Harvest Vegetable Van to St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, Ozanam Family Shelter, St. Vincent Early Learning Center and others.
Seton Harvest sells “shares” to the community, which entitles shareholders to receive fresh food grown on the farm weekly throughout the growing season.
“In our first growing season, we had 60 shareholders,” Sister Theresa said. “The farm grew 13,600 pounds of fresh food, and we donated 2,600 pounds to those in need. In 2017, we had 155 shareholders. The farm grew 44,284 pounds of fresh food, and we donated 8,877 pounds to the needy.”
As reported in this story’s lead, the new hydroponic-farming effort has already assisted the needy. “The farm has grown enough fresh food using hydroponics to provide 500 meals to the needy,” said Vicki Eichmiller, executive director of Evansville’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “This is a wonderful addition to Seton Harvest, and it will benefit so many people. We are thrilled to be a partner in this effort.”
Joe Schalasky, Seton Harvest Farmer, told The Message that the hydroponics greenhouse will focus, at least initially, on growing cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and other greens. “The HEAL Grant allows us to explore new farming practices and the ability to grow produce year-round, increasing our ability to provide good, quality produce to those in need in our community,” Schalasky said. Seton Harvest Farm Assistant Daniel Rodenberg has been a key player in the development of the new greenhouse.
In addition to the produce provided, the Healthy Harvest Program will include supplemental education and health screenings provided by a St. Vincent Evansville Registered Dietitian and R.N. The dietitian will create recipe cards to accompany fresh produce and provide hands-on education about healthy eating. The R.N. will provide much-needed health screenings at the distribution sites.
You can learn more about Seton Harvest online: http://www.setonharvest.org/.