Tami Kincer and local partners hope to soon realize a dream to open an indoor hydroponic farm on Main Street in Hillsville to make fresh organic food easily accessible to residents in the Twin County region at no charge.
Though a final location is still undecided, plans for the establishment are very real and potentially will have far-reaching benefits for the community. The Main Street idea is to make fresh organic food easily accessible for residents in the Twin County region at no charge. Meanwhile, combined with associated local outdoor farm and greenhouse initiatives known as Cross Creek Retreat, there should be more than enough hydroponically-grown food leftover to sell to local businesses and facilities to generate the revenue needed to make the idea sustainable.
“A 4,000-square foot indoor hydroponic facility would produce 2,500 to 2,800 pounds of food a week. So that is enough food to give away to anybody within the region of this one community farm, and then still have an access and abundance to sell with our agreements with the hospital, with local facilities that have cafeterias and local food banks,” Kincer said. “They have already told me to grow it and they have given me a list already of what they will buy. So we are working with the hospitals, with a couple of the assisted living facilities, the life center, they have already started given me lists of stuff they will buy. And we would also like to do CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes for households as well.”
The mission statement for Cross Creek Retreat is to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to children and their families through year-round indoor farms. This is done in a variety of ways by serving through schools, food bank initiatives, and the community as a whole. The mission statement notes the Blue Ridge Plateau is clearly the place for a retreat center with cabins nestled on the ridge.
“Cross Creek Retreat will be a place of peace and growth through greenhouse and open-field farming to offer an experience that provides opportunity for accountability, forgiveness and spiritual healing,” the mission statement continues. “Volunteerism will tend to the Main Street Hydroponic Farm, which is a climate-controlled environment that provides fresh fruits and vegetables freely to children and their families. This operation will additionally offer employment as we grow and generate revenue to assist in funding the non-profit component of our mission.”
Kincer said the vision for a hydroponic farm came to her when visiting a local farm owned by Rev. Lawrence Childs. Though the outdoor portion of the farming initiative ultimately may not be located on Childs’ property, Kincer hopes it will be, where the dream began. From there, she said she began researching some of the largest hydroponic plants in the country, places where hundreds of thousands of pounds of tomatoes are generated daily.
“They are grown hydroponically and it started feeding into this vision of feeding people. This isn’t rocket science. It is not something I developed, it isn’t new to anybody,” Kincer said. “It is being done, even where I came from before in Charlotte, there are pockets of it being done and food is going into local markets and people are paying a good premium for it. That is where most people are in the lap of affluence and there are very large incomes in those regions. So my vision was that same thing can be done and brought in to a community where it can be grown and freely given away, make it affordable to people in rural areas and readily accessible, and you don’t have to drive for miles to get to it.”
While working in Elkin, N.C., Kincer met a forming group called Living Waters Foundation with similar ideas. Out of that came the fresh food for children project, she said, in which the community is involved by sewing into the project.
“We are learning on the farm in the greenhouses while we are looking at a Main Street building that will be the right one for our indoor hydroponic farm,” Kincer said. “The goal for these is for them to be on a Main Street. Any community can develop an indoor hydroponic center in an indoor vacant building. What I feel privileged about this partnership is that we are learning the best practices of the ultimate goal of the project, and that is to grow fresh food and vegetables that will be given freely to people in this community that need it. There will be parts of it we will gain revenue by selling some of what we grow, but the first and foremost priority is to make sure there are no hungry children.”
Kincer’s group hopes to obtain enough funding to purchase Rev. Childs’ farm as part of the mission project, but that part of the plan is still an uncertainty. She is currently in the process of trying to obtain grants for the new 501c3 mission. There is not a quick turnaround on receiving grants, she said, but in the meantime the group doesn’t want to sit around and wait.
“It is our responsibility to start doing the research and getting our volunteer teams up and running and getting knowledge from Pastor Childs and what he is doing at his farm. All of that we are doing to get prepared so when the funds are provided then we will be ready to start growing immediately,” Kincer said. “There are some things with a new website launch we did recently that people can sew into with some funding. People can be a part of it, whether it is $10 a month or $15 a month, that is where it becomes a community project. I believe it is by design that there is some heartache, some toiling. If we were to come in here and just do it right off and just start giving away food, that would be great, it would fill some bellies. But it is important for us to do these programs where the community comes in and helps grow it.”
Kincer said she has already seen similar ideas work in North Carolina where elementary school kids are part of the planting, growing and harvesting process of fruits and vegetables. They learn along the way while also being taught how science and history play into the harvest.
“It is not just to give the food away, which is important, but in the process we want to be able to expose children to what healthy food is and give them the opportunity to be a part of that growing, but also for them to learn that they really do like it. A hydroponically-grown radish is actually quite sweet. It also has great medicinal and healthy qualities, but a kid is not going to eat a radish that comes from a store,” Kincer said. “But if you grow it healthy and slice it and put it in a salad, it is amazing. That is part of it, too, the indoor space, and also on a farm retreat setting, where we would do cooking classes and teach them.”
Rick Patterson and his wife Lia, owners of Serenity Farms, LLC, a local landscaping company, are two volunteers who have teamed up with Kincer because they are so excited about the initiative. Patterson hopes people will research why it is important to eat healthy food that is grown locally rather than shipped 1,500 miles.
“Not only the importance of locally-grown food, but the vision of, ‘Hey, we can do this in our small community.’ And also to get the community involved, go to the website, like the Facebook page, learn more about it and possibly volunteer and donate time,” Patterson said. “It is about building support and volunteers, getting dirty. It is like karma, what you put in you are going to get back.”
Kincer said it is also important for folks to know how quickly food can be grown hydroponically. Outdoor farming has maybe two cycles per crop, she said. With a greenhouse you can get two to four cycles, but with hydroponically-grown food you can have as many as eight full cycles. Childs noted you can grow a crop of radishes hydroponically in just 21 days.
“We just love doing it and we are excited to help in any way. We are also educated in what is going on in factory farms and what it is doing to the world. It is really sick,” Patterson said. “Corporations are all about, ‘Hey, we need to feed all 9 billion people and we are going to do it in the best way, not for you all, but what makes us money.’ The dangerous stuff that is being put on all our vegetables, the pesticides, the Roundup Ready spray – we are eating and ingesting all this stuff. There is a lot of nasty things going on and that is why we feel so strongly about getting into this, to where Hillsville is going to be able to have a huge farm, indoor and outdoor, that will have 98 percent organic food accessible to people who need it. That is another thing we feel so strong about, the healthy aspects of this vision. We are going to try to get people to come and learn about the farm and about the importance of locally-grown food. An idea that we are working on is having an education day every couple of weeks, where residents could come and learn, then go down to the field and get as many tomatoes as they want.”
Benjamin Shaw, who runs a health-conscious farm in Pipers Gap, is also a partner in the venture. Shaw’s passion is farm-to-table endeavors and enjoying and serving food that he knows is not genetically modified. He has pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep and other livestock on his Fancy Gap farm that are grass-fed and not giving hormones or anything extra.
“He could have been in any upscale restaurant on the East Coast but decided to come back here and live healthy and educate people at the same time,” Kincer said. “We are hoping more people will connect with us and get involved. Please, go to our Facebook page and Twitter page and like us. There will be more information coming soon.”
Cross Creek Retreat can be found at www.crosscreekretreat.com, on Facebook at https:www.facebook.com/FreshFoodRules, or on Twitter@CrossCreekVa. Like their Facebook page to find information about an open house in the neaer future.