As a result of the emergency health measures put in place during the pandemic, many industries, including those responsible for our food chain, were at risk. Recognizing this threat to a more stable economy and food security in Delaware, the Delaware Department of Agriculture, and the Delaware Council on Farm and Food Policy invested $2 million in seed funding to establish the “First State Integrated Food System Program.”
This program was initiated by the Delaware Council on Farm and Food Policy, and is designed to help stabilize and strengthen Delaware’s small and mid-sized farmers and local food supply chain operations, among the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic. The funding for the program is part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). One of the recipients of the food system program funding is Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, which received support for a “mini-farm” operation at our Western Sussex club site in Seaford. The farm project received $100,000 in funding spread out over three years to support its “Farm to Kitchen Project.”
Tony Windsor, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware Food Program Director, said the mission of the farm and kitchen project is to both provide an agriculture educational resource for the club members, as well as provide a fresh food resource for the organization’s daily meal service operation. He said the commercial kitchen at the Western Sussex Club is the operational hub for the preparation and distribution of as many as 1,500 daily meals for BGCDE sites throughout Kent and Sussex counties. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware participates in the USDA after school and summer feeding programs in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Education. In addition, the kitchen provides daily meals to other youth service agencies including libraries and pre-school childcare sites.
Just weeks before the Covid pandemic dealt its earliest impact on Delaware, the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club received $46,000 of block grant funding from the Delaware Department of Agriculture to begin developing a parcel of property directly behind the club as part of an agriculture project with inclusion of berries as a specialty crop.
Last winter, the club hired Christine Justice of Seaford, as Agriculture Director. She immediately became active in developing the project, focusing on raised garden bed crops. Today the mini-farm has grown to produce a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Justice comes to Boys & Girls Clubs with a wealth of experience. Having worked in horticulture for 14 years, she started as an intern with the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens and graduated from Wilmington University with a bachelor’s degree in business.
She believes that although the mini-farm has developed substantially since she arrived in December 2021, it provides opportunity for much more growth. “The mini farm not only educates Boys & Girls Club youth in how to grow their own food, but it has also already produced over 1,500 pounds of nutritious food for them to consume here at the club, or take home to share with their family and friends,” says Justice.
She also says the Boys & Girls Club members are excited about the mini-farm. They have named the farm "The Maze" due to the arrangement of the many raised garden beds. Currently the farm boasts 30 varieties of vegetables, 25 varieties of herbs, 14 varieties of fruits, and two varieties of nuts, including peanuts. She said the kids stay engaged with the daily harvesting, integrated pest management, proper watering techniques, and “a sense of community” as they gain agricultural experience. To date, the farm has produced 2,800 pounds of food.
Dr. Suchi Hiraesave, Senior Executive Director of Grants Development for Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware views the mini-farm project as a sanctuary. “Our mini-farm serves as a live laboratory for our kids to experience where the food comes from, how to grow their own food, understand the nutrition value of eating fresh food, respecting our environment, and much more. Walking through the berries; vegetables, herbs, and floral, patches is a great de-stressor. In this mental health pandemic we are currently in, this is an activity to help create personal positive outcomes,” she said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the mini-farm “Maze” project can email Justice at email@example.com.