Share story

The Millionair Club Charity hopes to reap food, revenue and job training from the seeds in its new commercial hydroponic farm in Seattle.

A 250-square-foot demonstration garden resides in the basement of the charity, and the Millionair Club wants to expand the project by the end of this year into a larger facility that would be from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet, according to Jim Miller, the charity’s executive director.

The hydroponic project, whose first seeds were planted in December, is different from a regular farm.

“Basically what that means is that we’re growing the plants in a nutrient-rich water instead of soil,” said Chris Bajuk, the charity’s urban-farming program manager.

The charity partnered with UrbanHarvest, an urban-farming company, to build the hydroponic garden, according to a Millionair Club Charity news release.

Bajuk, who is also the founder of UrbanHarvest, said the garden’s plants first spend about two weeks in tiny foam blocks held in trays. Nutrient-rich water from a reservoir flows into the trays.

The plants are then placed into the larger system, where they grow for about a month to six weeks, again with the help of nutrient-rich water.

According to Bajuk, the system cost about $30,000 to build.

The current farm will serve as part of a training program for some of the charity’s homeless and/or unemployed participants, who will learn about crop production before moving on to other aspects of food preparation in the charity’s kitchen. The effort started Feb. 3, according to Miller, with three participants being trained on the hydroponic garden.

The charity’s mission is to provide such services as employment opportunities and food for the homeless, unemployed and those experiencing both.

As the project expands, Bajuk said, participants will be able to get part-time and full-time work in the larger facility.

Another goal of the charity’s hydroponic project is to provide food, both for its own meals program and for other organizations feeding the homeless.

“In the Seattle food-banking system, fresh, leafy greens are in very short supply,” Bajuk said. “Generally, what food banks will receive are kind of the discarded materials from grocery stores that just haven’t sold, and so they’re at the very, very end of their shelf life. And generally it’s just some shredded iceberg kind of lettuce that doesn’t have much nutritional value.

“And so this program is intended to inject some fresh produce into the food-bank system and create employment in the process.”

Most of the food generated by the hydroponic farm will be sold. Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria is its first customer, according to the charity’s news release.

Brian Gojdics, the executive chef for Tutta Bella, said the business has prepared and donated food to the Millionair Club Charity.

Gojdics said Tutta Bella will initially get basil from the charity’s farm.

The chef said the pizzeria wants to get the herb from the Millionair Club project because of how close it is to the restaurants and because of environmental benefits of
hydroponic farming, such as no pesticides.

“And finally, and most importantly,” Gojdics said, “the quality of this product, because it is so, so incredibly fresh, it’s just immaculate.”

Safiya Merchant: 206-464-2299 or