Fall Grower Highlight: Solutions Farms of Solutions for Change

There is very little that is typical or standard about Solutions Farms. While every farm is different in its resources, methods, and products, Solutions Farms exists in a classification of its own by virtue of what it seeks to accomplish.

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Solutions for Change is a nonprofit organization based in North San Diego County and created in 1999 with a single goal: solve family homelessness - one family one community at a time. Founded by Chris and Tammy Megison - creators of the successful North County Times Hawker program (the guys you see selling newspapers at traffic intersections) - Solutions for Change seeks a permanent end to homelessness for families through an intensive 1,000-day college like program.

The organization’s website, www.solutionsforchange.org, summarizes the Megison’s strategy to solve family homelessness. “The vision was different in that it did not include more shelter beds, feeding programs or traditional human services, but rather an audacious plan to create access to permanent solutions using a hybrid model that the couple developed. All the parents being helped would work, pay rent, attend onsite workshops and classes and be engaged in a dynamic coaching system. The model, now known as the Solutions University, blends affordable housing, educational opportunities, employment training and health related solutions all within one cohesive strategic partnership. There is but one goal: work with this community to solve family homelessness for kids and communities, permanently.” Solutions for Change reports solving homelessness for over 800 families and 2,000 children over the last 17 years.

Solutions for Change acquired two acres in Vista, the site of a former nursery, and in 2012 renovated the property and greenhouses. They built a 7,000 square foot greenhouse aquaponics farm that produces both tilapia fish and leafy greens and herbs in a closed loop system. Fish culture is used to provide nutrients to the plants which filter the water and culture solution and send clean water back to the fish. Tilapia fish are typically grown in aquaponics systems because they are hardy, fast growing, there is an established market for them, and they can tolerate water conditions that many other fish types cannot. The farm is certified organic and grows its plants in coconut coir fiber and worm castings.

Produce from the farm is sold to local schools, restaurants, and markets, and all revenue is reinvested into programs operated by Solutions for Change.

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In 2015 Solutions for Change was awarded a grant from Alliance Healthcare Foundation which helped fund an expansion which tripled the farm’s production footprint from 7,000 to 25,000 square feet, and made Solutions Farms the largest operating aquaponics farm in California. The farm can produce up to 3,500 pounds of lettuce a week, and up to nine tons of fish a year.

Solutions Farms is a key component of Solutions University providing employment training to previously homeless parents in the program. “The farm acts as part of the employment related training portion of that 1,000 days. The residents can come and work and screw up and mess up and learn the job skills they need to be successful going forward in their future,” says Kevin Gorham, the farm’s production manager.

About the farm, Solutions founder Tammy Megison writes, “Solutions Farms’ most important output will be neither its produce nor its fish. This is, first and foremost, a social enterprise venture that combines job training, general education, and entrepreneurship for the benefit of Solutions’ families and the community. Solutions Farms will be an in-house platform that provides Solutions families an opportunity to acquire marketable, higher-wage skills running the gamut from technology to accounting, and marketing to sales.”

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Solutions Farms celebrated the full completion of their greenhouse expansion project with a grand opening in March 2017, and is now offering tours of the farm early in the year. For more information about the farm and Solutions for Change visit www.SolutionsforChange.org.