Imagine a place where homeless families get a new start in life and where parents and children enjoy the benefits of growing and eating healthy, organically grown food.
Such is the mission of Solutions for Change, the nonprofit brainchild of US Marine veteran and social entrepreneur Chris Megison, whose two-acre aquaponics farm in Vista—Solutions Farms—is one of the largest in the world dedicated to helping the homeless.
But my farming experience was zilch.” So Megison set about learning what he could about aquaponics, a relatively new method of farming that combines hydroponics and aquaculture.
According to Megison, aquaponically grown greens are even better nutritionally than certified organic produce, where manmade nutrients are often introduced. By contrast, the aquaculture component at Solutions Farms uses 100% natural, fish-based nutrients to feed the plants. “As a result, our plants grow faster—often in just four to six weeks from seed to harvest.” Solutions Farms is looking to increase annual production from 25,000 to 130,000 pounds. Some of the produce is sold to restaurants and at farmers’ markets, but the bulk goes to local schools through a farm-to-school program. Their partnership with Vista, Fallbrook and Escondido school districts ensures that thousands of local school kids are getting top-quality produce as part of their daily regimen.
Solutions Farms is a key component of Megison’s three-pronged approach to getting homeless families back on track—education, workforce training and housing—using a personal accountability model he calls “get up, suit up and show up.”
“New participants are enrolled in a 1,000-day leadership development academy in a college-like setting,” Megison explains. The first of its kind in the country, it gives them the skills they will need to exit dependency programs and start giving back to the community, instead of relying on handouts. Students spend 20–25 hours a week at Solutions Farms as work training, with the balance spent going to classes at what Megison call “Solutions University.” Campus-like housing is provided through a network of multifamily units throughout North County that are owned by Solutions for Change. Upon completion of the program, graduates will have saved $2,000 in a bank account and secured full-time employment.
“Having dedicated 25 years of my life to this effort, we are now seeing tangible, generational transformation, and it’s big,” says Megison. “The children of formerly homeless families we’ve helped along the way are living the promise of a better future that we made to their parents when they first walked through our doors.”
Solutions Farm received an Innovation Grant from Alliance Healthcare Foundation that will enable them to increase their production by two- or three-fold. The expansion and build-out is currently under way and expected to be completed by end of summer 2016.
722 W. California, Vista