About a month ago, I went to an open house and informational seminar at Solutions for Change in Vista. I had heard of this organization but wanted to know more about their high-level mission of “Solving family homelessness — One family, one community at a time.” President and CEO Chris Megison gave a very moving presentation on their approach to solving family homelessness by providing a complete and sustainable solution driven by accountability. Elements of this include Solutions University, Solutions Enterprise and Solutions in the Community combined with their transformational housing model that equips parents with the skills, knowledge and resources to completely transform themselves and their families in a 1,000-day college-like experience. It’s an amazing organization worth checking out and contributing to if possible.
So how does all this relate to Lick the Plate? Well, Solutions Farms in Vista is part of the enterprise that provides work-related training and employment to parents re-entering the workforce. This innovative aquaponics farm serves as a learning platform that provides real-world experience, and helps residents acquire and refine skills, ultimately leading to greater career success. It should be noted that this is a fully functioning farm that grows more than 100,000 pounds of organically certified, high-quality, sustainable produce, mainly leafy greens, to Vista Unified School District and many local restaurants. It’s an amazing operation and what’s even cooler is the whole aquaponics operation.
Basically aquaponics is a sustainable, green method of growing produce and fish. In this case, the fish are tilapia. Fish culture (waste) is used to nourish the plants, which in turn purify the water so it can be returned to the fish in a healthy condition. All the water is recirculated, which results in a highly water-efficient way to grow. It’s basically a combination of hydroponic-growing (without synthetic nutrients or fertilizers) and fish culture. After touring the farm, I was completely blown away by the entire operation. The crazy thing is they have the capacity to grow even more and are starting to expand their distribution to more school districts and restaurants.
My friend Marianne Merizalde teaches in Vista and told me that kids who normally shun greens love the fresh, colorful, nutrient rich lettuce from Solutions Farms.
It always helps that they give them kid-friendly names like Red Rosy Romaine. Students are excited to learn about aquaponics farming and Solutions Farms brings the farm to the classroom with their roadshow aquaponics demo system.
Restaurants like The Flying Pig in Vista, Churchill’s and The Bellows have also been turned on to the high-quality lettuce coming out of Solutions Farms. That has much to do with new Director of Operations Chris Cochran, a good friend and frequent Lick the Plate radio guest when he was at Stone Brewery. His career move from a high-profile national brand to the hyper local, altruistic Solutions Farms could be a column in itself.
When I met Chris at the farm I could immediately sense he was stoked about this opportunity not only to be directing a cutting-edge growing operation, but also helping to change lives in the process. His connections with restaurateurs in San Diego from his gig at Stone enables him to introduce the amazing lettuce from Solutions Farms. After that introduction it’s more a matter of keeping up with the demand as the quality of the produce is on par or better than any being grown in traditional farms. His skills as a marketer have also been tapped and he plays a big role in the branding of the greens to give them that kid-friendly appeal.
Chris also explained to me how transformative it has been for him to see parents who, not long ago were homeless with their kids, given a sense of purpose and more importantly, a chance to succeed. Whether or not they take their skills learned at Solutions Farms to another farm or similar endeavor, they now have a work ethic and an appreciation for a healthy eating and lifestyle that is not always top of mind when you don’t have a roof over your head.
There are several ways to get involved with Solutions for Change and Solutions Farms either by direct contributions or volunteering.
I urge you to do some research on this fine organization and learn how they are doing things differently, and in my mind more effectively than similar organizations.
You can find them both at www.solutionsforchange.org and www.solutionsfarms.org.