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‘Hydroponics Farms Are the Complete Solution to Our Food Desert Crisis’: Feed Our Soul Organization Works to Reset the Table In Urban Neighborhoods

A Los Angeles woman’s idea for a simple food giveaway is a staple of one South L.A. community. Adrienne Wilson’s cheerful face greets volunteers every Friday at Norman O. Houston Park in South Los Angeles.

“We collect gleaned produce from different agencies around Los Angeles and we bring it to South Central L.A. and we give it away. That’s free and it gives healthy and delicious food to people who need it the most,” Wilson said to Atlanta Black Star in a recent interview.  “I did not think that this would become as big as it’s become now.”

This food giveaway, which Wilson started in April is just one part of the nonprofit she founded called Feed Our Soul. “Feed Our Soul, we are a restorative organization, so we focus on closing the gap on bringing access to fresh and organic foods to people in South Los Angeles and in urban neighborhoods,” Wilson said.

“COVID-19 hit, it was such a drastic change for all of the communities here in South Central, so I decided to hit up some of the farmers and gardeners and community organizations that I work with and glean food that wasn’t able to come to the supermarkets or farmers markets, but they wanted to give the food away because it was going to go bad.”

A chef by trade, Wilson brought her passion to Feed Our Soul in other ways as well.

“I’ve been working in the hospitality industry for about 12 years now, and I really wanted to learn how to grow my own food, but also teach people how to cook the food they were growing,” Wilson said. “So Feed Our Soul has a curriculum where we install hydroponic farms and gardens into schools, churches and community centers, and then we teach through educational workshops how to grow from that hydroponic garden as well as cook from it. So we also teach nutritional literacy, environmental science and food entrepreneurship.”

Hydroponic gardening is essentially soilless gardening, Wilson explains. Plants are grown strictly from water and direct air and sunlight.

“There are these towers that have a reservoir usually that are on the bottom, and it has a timer in there that shoots up water just like in a fountain,” Wilson explains. “Then it trickles down, creating an automatic irrigation system that feeds all of your plants. Then the water then falls back into the reservoir and is recirculated.”

Wilson believes this is the solution to the food desert crisis. “It is 100 percent sustainable and uses 90 percent less water and 90 percent less land than traditional agriculture. If we were able to install hydroponic farms or even small hydroponic greenhouse gardens in South Los Angeles, then we’re able to feed so many people with fresh, organic, local produce. I believe hydroponics farms are the complete solution to our food desert crisis,” she said.

The food from the hydroponic gardens, especially herbs like basil, mint and oregano are sometimes part of the Friday giveaway, as well as rich tomatoes, avocados, bananas and peppers. The giveaway is especially important as the holidays approach.

“What this means for the holidays is that people can relax. They don’t have to wait and stand in line at the store and they can get as much food as they like for their families so they can have a relaxed, grateful and thankful Thanksgiving,” Wilson said. 

But the recipients of the food aren’t the only souls being fed. The volunteers are big fans of this effort. “They are doing a great job,” said Khalid Abdulrahman, a regular volunteer. “I enjoy coming over to help them because of the work they do. I’m hoping I can get some of the same blessings they’re getting, but they should be blessed for what they’re doing,” he added.

Meanwhile, Wilson is happy the small seeds she planted have moved mountains. “I did not plan it further than let’s just pick up food and bring it to this park, and it has grown and grown and grown every week, and I’m so proud.”

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