vertical farm

From right, Ranae Staley, executive director at The Giving Plate, Russell Simpson, lead designer for Around the Bend Farms, and Ben Marsh, founder of Around the Bend Farms, review the initial diagram and indoor farm plans for an indoor garden that will be created for The Giving Plate.

A new nonprofit organization in Bend that focuses on urban gardening is partnering with The Giving Plate to build a garden inside the food pantry. Growing vegetables directly in the food pantry would be a first for Central Oregon.

The new organization, Around the Bend Farms, plans to build a hydroponic garden, which creates a controlled environment to grow vegetables indoors without soil. It will allow The Giving Plate to offer fresh vegetables on-site and year-round, said Ranae Staley, executive director at The Giving Plate.

“It’s a farm-to-table right inside our facility,” Staley said.

Plants grown in hydroponic gardens grow in water, not soil. Nutrients are dissolved in the water, which allows the plants to grow much faster. Among their advantages: Plants can be grown indoors, year-round and more of them can be put in a given area than a traditional soil garden. And there’s no weeding.

The Giving Plate and Around the Bend Farms are trying to raise $15,000 to design and build the indoor garden. So far, the organizations are $11,000 away from their goal.

The food pantry has limited space in its building off Division Street in Bend, so the garden will be designed in a way to fit in the building. The garden will be about 7 feet tall and filled with rows of vegetables, which is why it’s been dubbed a vertical garden.

Staley said she always imagined The Giving Plate would need a larger space before it pursued an indoor garden.

“It seemed like a far off thing that would only happen after we got a bigger facility,” she said. “It just so happened to fall on the ears of someone who has a solution.”

Ben Marsh, founder of Around the Bend Farms, said the goals of his organization are to find alternative ways to grow food in the High Desert and make that food more accessible for people.

Building an indoor garden for The Giving Plate meets those goals, Marsh said.

“We thought that is where we can make a difference,” he said.

Marsh had in interest in urban gardening while he was a high school biology teacher in San Jose, California. He ran a garden for students at the school and led recycling and environmental clubs.

He brought that interest to Bend when he moved in 2015. Two years ago, Marsh launched Around the Bend Farms with three co-founders, Chris Fasan, Bosten Ingram and Makena Whitaker.

Marsh runs the operation out of his home, which has a community garden outside.

In addition to The Giving Plate project, Marsh’s organization is looking to partner with local schools and other groups in Central Oregon.

Around the Bend Farms is in talks with Cascades Academy, a private school in Bend, to start a classroom project that could develop into a larger vertical garden farm at the school, Marsh said.

Marsh has a dream of creating urban farming hubs in schools and businesses across Central Oregon, where people can easily access fresh food that is grown year-round.

“We believe that what we are doing is creating a community around food,” Marsh said.

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