What a difference a century makes.
In the early 20th century, people left the farms in droves to come to Detroit and work in factories like Henry Ford’s. Now, in the early 21st century, the Ford Motor Company Fund set out to teach kids about farming and nutrition with a mobile, indoor, year-round gardening project in Detroit.
The project, created by young Ford employees, is two-fold.
First, there’s the Ford Mobile Farm, a hydroponic garden planted in a 40-foot freight container that will be housed at Cass Community Social Services (CCSS) and will help feed the hungry at the organization’s community kitchen. In addition, produce will be sold to local restaurants to produce a revenue stream to help support the freight farm. CCSS is a Detroit non-profit dedicated to providing area residents with food, housing, health services and job training. The Ford Motor Company Fund also collaborated with CCSS to create the Cass tiny homes neighborhood.
Second, a F-150 pickup truck with a garden planted in its bed will go from school to school in Detroit teaching kids healthy eating habits with hands-on learning.
“People who have ready access to fresh produce may not see this as a big deal, but the ability to offer fresh food and a good variety is very exciting to the community we serve,” says Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services. “This program also gives us the opportunity to teach people in our city how to create their own gardens that will give them better nutrition and be more cost-effective.”
In Southeast Michigan there are nearly 900,000 people struggling with food security. Of them, 700,000 live in poverty.
The concept for the Ford Mobile Farm came from the alumni of the 2017 class of Thirty Under 30, a philanthropic leadership program at Ford started by Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford. His goal was to ensure the next generation of Ford employees is plugged into the community and using their skills to help make improvements.
“I’m proud of the work our employees are doing to develop programs that address some of today’s most pressing societal issues,” says Bill Ford. “The Ford Mobile Farm project is the latest example of how they are finding ways to not only give back to the local community, but also create a platform to educate future generations and make a lasting, positive impact.”
The young Ford employees were tasked with improving the already successful Ford Mobile Food Pantries, founded in 2008 to help with the increasing hunger needs in the city. The shipping container idea evolved from the team’s original idea – creating a garden in the bed of an F-150 pickup. That led to the plan to grow vegetables in the 40-foot shipping container.
The team presented the idea to company and Ford Fund leaders and won $250,000 in funding from the Bill Ford Better World Challenge. That program is funded by Ford Motor Company and Bill Ford personally to provide support for employee ideas capable of transformational change.
The grant will cover the basics like the need to purchase and outfit the freight farm, hire a person to oversee the farm, support the educational arm of the program and prepare an F-150 for school visits.
“Our goal is to get kids excited about where their food comes from,” says Chris Craft, a Ford interior lighting engineer and member of the Thirty Under 30 team responsible for the concept of the Ford Mobile Farm. “We want them to learn they have the ability to nurture something to grow and to know what healthy food options look like, and that feeding your body with nutritious foods is important to the way you feel.”
Come Spring (known as the ‘plantin’ season’ on the farm), the specially outfitted iconic Ford truck will roll up to the local public schools to teach kids can grow their own healthy foods. The 2,250 kids expected to be reached by the truck will learn skills like planting, nurturing the plants, harvesting food and good nutrition. They’ll also get to taste the produce.
The freight container will be outfitted with the LED lights needed to encourage sprouting and growth and hundreds of vertical planters will house produce that will be fed by captured rainwater infused with nutrients. The container will have the growing capacity of up to two acres of land and produce up to 52 harvests each year. The unit will be partially powered by solar panels to reduce environmental impact and offset operating cost.
The container will be green – powered by solar panels, which will not only reduce the environmental impact but also offset operating costs.
“The Ford Mobile Farm is born from innovative young minds within the ranks of Ford,” says Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund. “Among our key objectives is to tackle systemic problems that plague our communities. This pilot program has the promise to help solve a stubborn issue that affects not only residents of Detroit, but people across the globe. We are optimistic about the broad impact this program can potentially have.”
Every year, the Bill Ford Better World Challenge awards up to $500,000 to support programs aimed at providing more access to water and improving sanitation. In 2017 the awards included the Clean Water Community Project in Mexico and the Smart Toilet Project in India.
The Thirty Under 30 team has used its expertise for other community programs. In February, it received $10,000 to improve efficiencies at Fish and Loaves Community Food Pantry, which serves families in suburban Detroit’s downriver communities.
Detroit’s communities get healthier and stronger as companies tap into the youth for ways to improve things and continue the region’s neighborhood revitalization.
— Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company Fund