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Winter Oasis: Inside the Kent County Greenhouse

As the farm at Kids’ Food Basket – Kent County rests under a tranquil blanket of snow, the nearby greenhouse buzzes with energy and life. 

Inside, the hum of fans harmonizes with the trickle of nutrient-rich water coursing through the hydroponics system. Tomatoes and cucumbers hang in the heart of the greenhouse, creating a tunnel of vines with colorful clusters of crunchy, sweet fruit, ready for picking. The humid 72-degree air soaks into the skin of every visitor and volunteer, providing a warm break from a long, cold winter. 

“They say, ‘Wow, it’s warm in here! I love it!’ And the coats come off really quickly,” said Jason Lundberg, farm manager for KFB. 

The greenhouse sustains KFB’s commitment to provide fresh, healthy produce to the community year-round. This winter, the space will protect and grow thousands of seedlings, from heads of lettuce harvested now, to crops planted on the farm in summer. 

“It’s like a sanctuary. It keeps me connected to my passion for growing plants. You get the lights, the big space, the opportunity to grow lots of different things. It’s very special and I feel very lucky to be able to spend my winters in a space like this,” Lundberg said.  

The greenhouse is growing a variety of produce for the community this year, including microgreens, carrots and strawberries for kids to taste during Learn team lessons. Since October, dozens of students have made their way through the greenhouse. 

“They’re always really excited to come into this space. There are a lot of ‘wows,’ big eyes and pure joy,” Lundberg said. “I think it’s very impactful for the children to be in here, experiencing plants growing all around them. The kids really respond well when they get to pick produce right from the source.” 

Valuable Partnership 

Lettuce, cucumbers, microgreens and tomatoes grown in the greenhouse will go to community partners like Community Food Club in Grand Rapids. The first harvest of cilantro sprouts went out last month. 

Community Food Club Executive Director AJ Fossel says partnering with KFB is valuable because it means more healthy local produce that members want. 

“The KFB Grow team listens to our staff and this leads to more culturally appropriate food being grown and less produce being wasted,” Fossel said. 

Higher inflation, rising food costs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit cuts and the housing crisis in Kent County have driven more demand for programs like Community Food Club. Fossell says in the past 12 months, membership has grown 47%. That’s why she’s thankful for partnerships like the one between Community Food Club and KFB. 

Produce list for lessons and community partners.

“I think the best work happens when organizations can partner together. There is so much need in our community right now. We have to collaborate and work together so that we can provide the best approach,” Fossel said. 

Greenhouse Firsts 

This is the fourth season for the Kent County greenhouse, but also a year of many firsts, including bumping up basil production by growing it hydroponically. 

“Our community partners ask for herbs all the time,” Lundberg said. 

Volunteers are using a new mix of soil that includes rich compost produced by the farm’s in-vessel system, which started operating in December 2023. The compost material saves KFB thousands of dollars on the rising price of soil while providing nutrients that boost plant health. 

“They are responding very well to the compost and you can absolutely see the difference. We are seeing healthier plants – they are darker green, they grow with more vigor and the leaves and stems are hardier,” Lundberg said.  

Lundberg expects to grow 5,000 servings of produce in the greenhouse this winter.