Gulfport-based small-time grower Brendan Hart is looking for space to put shipping container gardens ripe with microgreens, and it’s all going to local food banks and donation spots in the name of his nonprofit, The Florida Hunger Project.
Hart began working in vegetable farming in 2008, while living in San Francisco.
The 42-year-old Massachusetts native was working with a buddy, growing lettuce as a part-time gig in those days.
Now, he’s in the process of launching The Florida Hunger Project, combining unconventional farming with a local need for donated foods.
The sole problem is finding a chunk of space to place the 40 by 10 foot containers. Hart has the plans and the nonprofit status, but the space has yet to come together.
“Most people have no idea how many people around us are feeling food insecurity,” Hart said.
In Pinellas County, that’s 73,369 people – nearly 13% of residents – according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap interactive study, which debuted in September of 2020.
“Even those that are employed, two jobs may not be rough to cover groceries,” Hart said. “It could be between paying a cell phone bill or an electric bill, and healthy food.”
And hunger is something Hart understands.
In 2008, Hart was 5’10 and 98 pounds, at a level of starvation that forced his body to begin pulling nutrients from his bones.
He was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that left the farmer hospitalized for two months.
“I can’t say I know exactly how people feel when struggling for food on a daily basis, but I know the feeling of starvation and how lack of nutrients affects every part of our lives,” Hart said.
After selling his greens for a few years in St. Petersburg, he swapped farming for profit with his Florida Hunger Project.
“Nutritious food should not be a luxury,” Hart said. “It’s a basic need and human right.”
A New Type of Greenhouse
After their life at sea, shipping containers are a virtually indestructible and relatively cheap option for everything from housing to farming.
In Hart’s words, they’re like a greenhouse, without the natural light.
Instead, the Gulfport resident plans to use artificial light to coax a medley of greens and sprouts into existence and then into local food banks or pantries.
“They are becoming popular in many restaurants for use in salads, sandwiches, garnishes, etc,” Hart said.
The idea is that a sprinkle of microgreens on lunch adds nutritional supplement.
“I just have the ability to do this, and I want to help,” Hart said. “I grew up in a white middle class family feeling secure about basic needs. I’ve become more and more aware of my white privilege, what it means, and how I may be able to utilize it for the benefit of my community.”
More at floridahungerproject.org.