Transcript for Episode on Mulberry Farms

May 10, 2023



shelter, people, work, community, lettuce, greenhouse, farm, central iowa, job, restaurants, folks, urban farm, urban ag, big, growing, food, plants, helps, agriculture, chefs


Joshua Spain, Aaron Thormodsen, Grounded by the Farm


Janice Person — Grounded by the Farm  00:02

Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice Person, your host on grounded by the farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. I am in downtown Des Moines today it’s kind of cold, but I got lucky and get to go into a greenhouse. I’m at the Central Iowa shelter, a place that offers services to the homeless. And they also have an urban farm. It’s called mulberry farms. And I met these two guys this morning. God loves them. They took emails and LinkedIn requests from me out of nowhere, because I saw an article about a shelter that has an urban farm that’s integrating that into the services for the people that are using it. But you’re also selling lettuce to restaurants. So there’s like job skills, there’s all kinds of things. So Aaron, helped me with your last name, first

Aaron Thormodsen

“thermode sen”


Grounded by the Farm

I knew I was gonna get it wrong. So now Aaron, you actually what is your role here


Aaron Thormodsen  01:06

I am the urban farm manager. All right. And then Josh


Grounded by the Farm  01:09

Bain, I’m the director of


Joshua Spain  01:11

farm and food, which basically means I want to help stitch the farm together with our community kitchen here and other kitchens in our communities so that we’re truly United program and not compartmentalized.


Grounded by the Farm  01:29

I love it. So it helps take a holistic view. So focused on the growing the plants to getting the right people to help grow the plants. When they fish, the farmer title is


Aaron Thormodsen  01:41

pretty self explanatory. Farm and I manage it.


Grounded by the Farm  01:45

And then he helps locate some of the places you’re going to be selling to an all of it to then ultimately together. But most of the time you’re focused on the farm side. And most of the time he’s focused on the food side. Yeah,


Aaron Thormodsen  01:58

I’m in the greenhouse, he’s on the computer, I think I got the better job.


Grounded by the Farm  02:03

I really appreciate you showing me through the greenhouse because and people will see from the video. I mean, it’s beautiful, like such incredible lettuce, and you’ve just started selling it to restaurants. So help me understand the path and I’m not sure which of you is best able to answer. But how did you get to a place where you have a green house, and you have the ability to sell to restaurants?


Aaron Thormodsen  02:28

Yeah. So this has been terms of the more ancient history of talk with Melissa, we’ve been working on this for about three years. I joined the project about a year and a half ago, when I joined, they had the plans ready. They had previously had a geodesic dome, it had proven as a really good space as a training program for folks for food production to supplement for the kitchen. And they wanted to go larger, they wanted to really up that the comparison our CEO makes is that you know the goodwill does thrift stores, we’re going to do farming, you know, that’s what we want to do is our profit center. And so I joined on, we had the designs ready. And then it took about a year. So last November is when we did our ribbon cutting. And then it took about another month to really get the insides working because the greenhouse was done, but the guts weren’t. So we got everything the water flowing out the plants in we got our first plants in like first or second week of the January of this year. First harvest the first week of February, and we’ve been running since then.


Grounded by the Farm  03:29

It was really cool. Even when I drove up, and was parking. I’m like, there’s like seedling trays in the hallway.


Aaron Thormodsen  03:37

Yeah, we make kind of a statement.


Grounded by the Farm  03:41

It’s not something you necessarily expect in a shelter that’s helping people who currently don’t have a home to go to. Right. Like I mean, just from the moment I drove up, it felt different, although the people who are accessing the services feel very much like the people I see on the streets in any town in America these days, right? Because it’s a growing problem. The idea this, this shelter is connected to churches, I understand but a broad group of churches, it’s not like


Joshua Spain  04:12

so initially it was founded by eight churches in the area directly responding to a specific crisis where people died on the street because they were barred from other shelters because they weren’t sober. Yeah, so the low barrier like ethos, like comes into our business through and through in so many ways. We don’t want that to be a reason someone’s left out in the cold. We also don’t want that to be a reason someone doesn’t have a job. So our training program is certainly that low barrier. There’s very few restrictions to who we employ, because who else? Well,


Grounded by the Farm  04:55

exactly. And it’s really kind of a starter program for folks who may have fallen out of the job market for one reason or another falling out of the housing market for one reason or another. And instead of saying getting donations of clothing to then sell to other people, what you’re doing is having people come in, they can work today we saw people harvesting your lettuce to go to restaurants. And so where all this is food go,


Aaron Thormodsen  05:23

oh, several locations. We have several accounts right now. So the stuff we saw today is going to Farm Table Delivery. And I will food Co Op. Okay, I will food Co Op, you can actually go to their store location and buy our lettuce on the shelf. Oh, nice. They’re the first group able to do that for us. But the majority of it is going to restaurants big growth has been a really good partner to us, amazingly, is super supportive to us. And we’re working on building other relationships. Beyond that. You serve a lettuce here. Oh, yeah. So we deliver about 30 to 50 pounds of lettuce to the shelter weekly. But we still have an additional two to 300 pounds that we’re looking to move a week. Okay. Which is between 1014 100 heads a week?


Joshua Spain  06:05

Yeah. Currently most of our excess going to the food bank of Iowa will ended up being one Yeah. being delivered to you greater Des Moines. There’s so there’s free community fridges, so any amount left over that we don’t have a destination for it ends up being available for free,


Grounded by the Farm  06:22

which is fantastic. I know, early on fresh foods. Were the one thing that people who were accessing food banks didn’t have a lot of access to we’ve added a lot of coolers to a lot of food banks over the last several years. And now you can actually provide people, less packaged food, more whole foods, all that kind of stuff, right? Fresh product. Yeah. Yeah. I have so many questions for you guys. Because it is amazing. So you’re on lettuce right now you’re trying some other things. So what kind of big plans do you guys have for this? Because we talked about fish. We talked about time and Theo’s


Joshua Spain  07:00

were so many expanding the biodiversity and diversity of the crop of what we’re doing in the greenhouse by think the bigger plan is expanding into the outdoor park. Yeah, so there is planned like a public park space that is basically like affordable Park. And


Grounded by the Farm  07:21

for folks in Iowa. Y’all are kind of on the west side of downtown. Is that the way you would?


Aaron Thormodsen  07:26

Yeah. 15th and Mulberry. So we’re still in the downtown core, but we’re before you hit like the Ingersol drag are still on in downtown.


Grounded by the Farm  07:34

Yeah. And there’s good water availability, you have a decent amount of land in this area. So is this for a double park really close by or Yeah, it’s hatched.


Aaron Thormodsen  07:44

When you go out to the parking lot. You see the retention basin along the railroad track. That is our property. So that’s four acres, right? That is where the aggregate will be. So there’ll be additional raised beds beyond what we already have. There’ll be floating raised beds. So it’s a modified like dock component, which has been turned into a raised bed. We will have fordable trees we will have loved blackberries and grapes and the hops wall and a walking trail and


Grounded by the Farm  08:10

people making their own beer out there. Well,


Aaron Thormodsen  08:13

as we said, we have a partnership with big growth. So there’s all sorts of aspects of volunteer have our own little outdoor pantry space, so like a community fridge and be in the pantry outside, okay.


Joshua Spain  08:26

Heirloom tomatoes long the sidewalk are pretty popular. Yeah.


Grounded by the Farm  08:30

I gotta say the little tiny tomatoes that you can easily pop in your mouth. I can eat those all day, I have that as my walkway to the front door of my own.


Aaron Thormodsen  08:39

We have some super sweet 100 and some Brad’s atomic grapes. And those are really fun to try out. Yes. You know, as a backyard gardener, you’re always thinking like, oh, I want to try something different. Everyone thought they were big plants. So they left them alone, except for my trainees who knew what they were and went through and picked all of them because they were the chair and they were like, great. These are all I know what I’m doing. I’m getting them all. And then the supersweet one hundreds. I mean, they were cleared out every day. There was nothing being wasted on those.


Grounded by the Farm  09:06

Yeah. So last year you already how many years have you grown outside was last year your first or for me?


Aaron Thormodsen  09:13

It was my first but we’ve been doing some form of outdoor growing for eight years. Yeah, all sorts of different capacities.


Joshua Spain  09:20

The program started very small. Initially, it was just surely inspired to like feed nutritious vegetables in the community kitchen here. Okay, we give away about 600 meals every day for free. Yeah. A lot of that is totally supported by community partners. They give like food rescue, like casseroles and like it just amazed like even like creative produce. But that wasn’t you know, that’s been a long time like in the making and those partnerships have been built over the years. So initially, like there was like a very big need to feed the people in the shelter and that was like the most direct persuaded to it. Yeah.


Grounded by the Farm  10:00

Yeah. It’s amazing. The difference. When you see your trainees, I guess is what you call the the folks that work in the greenhouse and stuff. Do you see a shift? Like, I have been so proud of myself for producing food, right, like in my backyard garden? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And, and I think for a lot of people, they haven’t had that opportunity. And I think of people who may not currently be housed and all of those kinds of things and like to see the impact of your work. I mean, it gets a little bit well,


Aaron Thormodsen  10:34

one of the, it was a really interesting experience for me, I had the gentleman I was working with, and he was doing seating and he’d done the seating for a couple of weeks. And one day, we’re heading over to the classroom, which is where the, you know, the lights are right up front. We do a class every Monday and Wednesday in the morning, and we’re on the way over, and he sees the trays had sprouted, and we’re growing and he was like, Whoa, I seated those like they sprouted. And the back of my head. I’m like, I’m Farmer brain. I’m like, yeah, man sprouted, we’d be in trouble, like they needed to sprout. But it the folks their ability to see something they did become productive, become something bigger and better to go from seeding something to harvesting and eating it all within your job. No, it’s very transformative. It’s very empowering for


Grounded by the Farm  11:21

the lettuce is a fast grow. Yes, it’s very good at giving


Aaron Thormodsen  11:25

you that visual like confidence of like, yes, we are doing something neat here. Because you know, you take this from seed to being We’ve we’ve had over a pound sized heads coming out of the system, you know that the green leaves? So they Yes, it’s very empowering for the folks who are in our programs.


Grounded by the Farm  11:41

And so So what are your goals with these folks? Like, do you have like to get them? Yeah, I mean, like, like, what is the plan? Like, how often are you trying to get new people in? And? Yeah, I mean, because there’s, I’m gonna assume there’s a lot of homeless in Des Moines, just like there’s a lot of homeless everywhere else. And so how do you service the broader community of them? Like, do you have different kinds of jobs? Or what is it?


Aaron Thormodsen  12:08

That’s a, that’s an excellent and really complicated question. Every person that comes into here has their own story and their own needs. And in my program, specifically, I tried to really tailor around whatever situation they’re in. And if I was trying to generalize it, you’re gonna have folks who lost their housing for some reason, by the way, we’re a housing first facility. So the job training program is only meant to help somebody get back into housing, right? That’s the intention of it. Yeah, some folks, they don’t qualify for Social Security, they don’t qualify for any government benefits, they are looking to get back into work, they want to get back to work. And what they need is basically a stepping stone, maybe they haven’t worked for six months or a year, and they need to be able to get back into the rhythm of 711. Monday through Friday, I’m going to be here, this is the work I’m doing. And some of it is the physical aspect, like it can be very exhausting working a full time job. And if you aren’t doing that first six months, you you lose that endurance. So that’s what program provides is the ability to come in work for three days, and then miss a day because you were so exhausted, you overslept, everything, you know, that’s sort of one group. The next group is folks who are in some way disabled, they’re looking to go on Social Security, and they need time and they need money. And they need something to do while they’re working on that process. And so that’s what the program also provides is that sort of mental health aspect that something to do every morning, something to keep yourself busy, keep yourself occupied, and feeling empowered by being in the program. And that’s sort of the second group. And both I allow both groups in both groups have the same intentions of helping them get into housing. And so really, I’m a wraparound service for the case managers. Maybe a case manager needs to talk to somebody about their security application. They know where to find them every morning, they’ll be in the greenhouse. And it’s one of the most difficult parts of being a case manager is finding the person, right, yeah, because everything is time sensitive. If it takes you a week to find the person again, they may have lost their chance for that housing. So being able to have somebody there consistently, who’s working, who I can contact, I can also reach out about, it’s all wraparound for the housing first model,


Joshua Spain  14:13

okay, for sure. And then as an organization as a whole, we actually have other job training programs. So Sintra was shelter and services has the janitorial and maintenance training program. We also have a culinary kitchen training program.


Grounded by the Farm  14:27

So it all works. Like the entire shelter can also be a work program. Yeah, everything you’re doing so yeah, some people may really love the farm aspect and other people may go but man, I am wicked at dicing carrots


Joshua Spain  14:42

for sure. And then we have people change courses too. And they see actually I really want to try that job over there in the farm that greenhouse.


Grounded by the Farm  14:50

People seem to have seemed to really enjoy it for sure.


Aaron Thormodsen  14:54

Well, and I’ve had people in the program be like, actually, I really like being in the kitchen, the kitchen, like the fun place and I’m like Go for it.


Grounded by the Farm  15:01

Yeah, different. John’s try a different pizza. Yeah. the through


Joshua Spain  15:04

line is probably that each one is teaching a universal soft skills. So just the ability to show up to work and come like with a good attitude. And you know, all those things are actually like job requirements anyway.


Aaron Thormodsen  15:22

Yeah, and fill in gaps in resumes, right? A lot of folks, they don’t want to a lot of companies don’t want to hire somebody who hasn’t been working. Yeah, just by


Grounded by the Farm  15:30

for so long or whatever, it could be six months, it could be a year, there’s just the gap, just a


Aaron Thormodsen  15:35

gap, any sort of gap, but by hiring them, we intrinsically make them more valuable to another employer. And that is


Grounded by the Farm  15:41

really helpful to the recommendation they can get. That’s exactly,


Aaron Thormodsen  15:45

Yep, exactly. And that helps the folks here that helped with specifically employment placement. You know, we have a case manager here that does the placement of folks who are in general, you know, in the day room who are just sleeping, you’re on the streets, or also in our training programs, helps them get into some sort of employment.


Joshua Spain  16:03

Absolutely. Some of our community partners to There are restaurants that buyer lettuce are now also restaurants that hire people from our kitchen program, or, and so I mean, really, the unity within the community is starting to lay all those connections are starting to really be created. And, you know, one thing isn’t just one function, it seems like there’s multiple, like, at facets for


Grounded by the Farm  16:31

Yeah, it’s, it’s such a different model from what I know, as shelters, right. So so often, the shelter doesn’t give you something to do there. Right, right. Like it just taking care of your immediate needs of shelter.


Joshua Spain  16:48

Well, since we are like a low bar shelter really like the the bigger idea there is that we are creating, like sobering moments. A lot of people, you know, they medicate, because they’re in a really tough situation, or they’re in physical distress, or emotional distress, and to give layers of activity and stability and community are all designed to, or even hot meal, like, give people that chance to just take a present with their new situation. Oh, actually, yeah, I get to see people every day that care about me, and I’ve got a hot smile when they see me, I’ve got something to do that I enjoy doing. And suddenly, like life isn’t so bad anymore. It’s got


Grounded by the Farm  17:36

to be incredibly rewarding to work in an environment like this. But I assume there are some pretty big challenges, too. So we were discussing even like, you know, how do you your hand pollinating any of the crops right now that you’re trying? And even the idea of getting pollinators in there could be a little bit difficult for some people to face, including me, talked about MIB allergy, right. And I’ve really worked hard on it. So I can be around them because I work in agriculture. So I had to write like, and I’ve even gone to be boxes, and then all the gear. But so what are the what are the big challenges for you? Is it on the agricultural side? Or is it? Is it getting the funding to get to the next level? Or what were the biggest challenges in this program? Because it sounds awesome.


Joshua Spain  18:28

Let’s do both for sure.


Aaron Thormodsen  18:30

I would say funding is the biggest, you know, lettuce is a very forgiving plant Hydroponics is especially the systems we’re using are really well known and well tested systems. Getting the money together to fix the problems that occur getting the sort of continued funding to make things happen getting enough labor in to manage on sort of a larger scale, sort of our expansions. That that is where a lot of our difficulties come


Joshua Spain  19:00

from, we’re still a couple million away from our goal for the groundbreaking of the Agra hood, the no barrier community park just picked up just a couple of million away, but the intention there is for it to be a mainstay of the community and that there’s free choose the mature for generations to come. People can come and gather and also, you know, they don’t even have to be employed with us or in shelters.


Grounded by the Farm  19:26

I mean, it’s a public park, it’s a public park. If I want to pick something I can do


Joshua Spain  19:33

and so I mean that’s that’s a bigger goal right now that we have but you know, our programs themselves take ongoing maintenance as well. The farm is meant to drive some revenue that supports the shelter as a whole. Okay. All in all, pro


Grounded by the Farm  19:49

leafy greens, expensive item for you know, like purchasing leafy greens is probably a pretty good way to go. Yeah, it does have a lot in a little space, like you have a lot more in the same amount of space, as I see on a farm, right? Because you have multiple levels.


Aaron Thormodsen  20:07

Yeah, we’re a higher density and a faster turnaround then like in the ground growing, which provides us a lot of products to move, which is a wonderful problem to have. But that’s what we’re really working on just trying to find places for that product to be moved to, you know, play more vendors, more people to sell to


Joshua Spain  20:24

Oh, yeah, we’re always so excited about new community partners. We’ve got just yesterday St. Kilda is and valley junction and agreed to Yeah.


Aaron Thormodsen  20:35

It was a it was a it was a plus. I like that. Yeah,


Joshua Spain  20:40

I mean, those are always exciting moments that we get to firsthand witness our community signing up to be an ongoing supportive of what we’re doing in our mission. So it definitely keeps us going. Yeah.


Grounded by the Farm  20:54

So one of the other things we talked about is trying to find those niches that people can’t otherwise fill locally. So you said there were a few different kinds of food that you’re testing out, what are you looking at next?


Joshua Spain  21:09

I mean, we’ve have different chefs in the community requesting different herbs for their unique cuisine. We’re also hoping to plant a diverse array of fruit bearing food out in the agri hood said more seasonal foods outdoors. Yeah, native plants that are fruit bearing and also fruits that would accommodate people in like diverse cultures. So that you know, I think apples because I’m from Iowa and like growing apples in my making apple pies, like where I come from and what I have to offer, but home is so different to so many other people and so, you know, being open to growing like diverse amount of crops so that other people could have that same shared feeling of home is


Grounded by the Farm  22:00

Yeah, and if you can get them to either grow in a greenhouse or find ones that are more weather tolerant at the Iowa food scene. Yeah, absolutely. Because that’s probably a little bit of an issue for some of us, right? Like, I love that you are growing okra that’s like my home like I’m from Memphis like we love that down home and collards.


Aaron Thormodsen  22:20

Yep, you’re trying words mustard greens, dill, parsley, cilantro. Knows Yeah, we’re getting some tomatoes out there on yo Serrano’s tomatoes. Cream. What else did we just put in Pisa we just sees it. We just see she’s oh, we’re doing a rainbow chard. We’re doing chicory fresh dill. Yeah, all sorts of fun stuff where we that’s the fun part for me, right? Like I get to just start experimenting with stuff at this point. Like, yeah, just see what works. A lot of restaurants have asked for, you know, like we mentioned the deal, fresh dill, fresh cilantro. And then we’re working towards a spring mix, you know, which is what the chicory and we have like a frizzy Lizzy mustard green, just kind of a prettier one and then working towards some other lettuce varieties, which are more aesthetic and mix well. They look really


Grounded by the Farm  23:09

pretty on the plate or the chef’s right? Because the thing is, is if you’re talking about that spread of types of things that you’re serving at, gonna pay really big money at a restaurant, I want it to look beautiful and tastes awesome.


Joshua Spain  23:25

Absolutely, absolutely. We want our home chefs to be happy too. So we’re actually launching like a CSA program to where I mean, it’s CSA and so many other ways, but in the conventional way, think of a CSA box that you would subscribe to come and pick up every week. Yeah, we’re hoping to boost the diversity to make those boxes exciting, too, for any home cooks that want to support our mission.


Grounded by the Farm  23:51

Wow, I am blown away. So do you know of other states or cities where this type of model is being used? Because I’ve never, never really heard of it being agriculture in this situation, which is what made me so excited about it. So


Aaron Thormodsen  24:07

we’ve done a bit of research to try and figure that out. Because we’ve asked ourselves the same question. Yeah, I mean, we want to learn from what’s working. Yeah, we’d love to have other people ask questions do and the only one I know remember off the top my head is I believe it’s called solutions farms. It’s in San Diego, California. And yeah, and we were what they do is they provide employment training to folks who were I believe previously homeless are not currently staying in a shelter, okay. So they don’t provide housing for them. They provide the employment aspect, which is what makes actually our situation from what I can tell the only, you know, greenhouse operated by a active emergency shelter and especially a wet shelter. Like we allow people to come in who are under the influence of anything and still provide them services and what they need to get back onto their feet.


Joshua Spain  24:57

Yeah, so only caveat there’s like Once you’re here, tolerate, you


Aaron Thormodsen  25:03

know, using being come in under the influence. Yes, yeah. But to be operating a, you know, a controlled environment, multi layer hydroponic and aquaponic system in a wet shelter. I don’t I don’t think anyone else has done that. That’s pretty wild.


Grounded by the Farm  25:19

I mean, even figuring out other things that might closely relate to it is kind of hard, right? Because the amount of labor turnover you have versus other places, is a really different quality. And then, at least from what I know, the indoor agriculture that serving restaurants, frequently has like a staff that’s like, solid, they’re there. They, they know how to do the problem solving and stuff like that. So it’s a really dynamic situation you guys have created. But if you were gonna have that, wouldn’t you have it in Iowa? Like, we’re where agriculture is like central to the world, right? Yeah, absolutely.


Joshua Spain  26:03

Even here in Iowa, though, we find that we’re still doing something new, because most people will get pushed back and be like, That’s a farm or and just even that, like idea of what farming is, has such deep roots here that are like in row crop and so many other other modes of doing it. And so, I mean, we’re teaching like new vocational skills, and of course, like, skills that people already have and bring to the table are useful. But you know, we’re definitely exploring like urban controlled environment ag like in a pretty interesting way. Yeah,


Grounded by the Farm  26:47

I think urban AG is still so new for a lot of cities, right? So the fact that yours is different than most urban ag that we’ve talked to. And stuff like a friend of ours on the south side of Chicago has a great urban farm. And she’s trying to teach people in Chicago about urban farming. So you might want to talk to Natasha at some point. But she’s not doing greens in greenhouses, right. She’s got lots of raised beds, and some of those kinds of things. But she’s also working with neighbors. And the hope is, is this helps create community from the neighborhood. But you guys are looking to create community, with the shelter with businesses with people across the Moines. So it’s, it’s a very interesting model of building community and helping infuse the community back with people who somehow pulled away from it or been pushed away from it, or Yeah, however, we want to talk about it,


Joshua Spain  27:44

or they’re brand new to our community. You know, a lot of times we think, Oh, someone from our own community has become homeless. But a lot of times we discover that people come to Des Moines, already homeless, because they’ve heard there’s opportunities here, or they know someone, or it’s gonna be a job, maybe. Yeah, and so we’re actually almost like the first connection point to what they might discover to be their community.


Aaron Thormodsen  28:16

Well, I think the community building aspect is really powerful. My background being in controlled environment, ag and urban AG, like I’ve seen, you know, we’re talking about, like, difficulties we’ve had, I’ve seen a lot of potential for solutions. In regards to you one of the biggest issues in urban AG is labor, you know, finding people who show up who do the dirty work, who will get the garden hose out and really create a, a clean, and a visually acceptable space for the people who are living around the community, their urban farm or community farm, the folks here want to be doing that, that is the work that they are living for. And so kind of connecting the two together provides a real community space in which folks who want to do that work, are able to and get what they want out of it. And then people that need the food people are managing those community farms can also get that aspect. And that’s something we’ve been trying to build out as we work with groups like Oak Ridge in terms of creating community farms outside of here to provide that extension from learning about urban farming and community agriculture, within our greenhouse and within our raised beds, and making that applicable to the community around us, you know, and it’s that labor training. Also, it’s really hard finding people that have worked on a hydroponic system in any capacity, right. So to have a training program in Iowa, that’s just cranking out people who understand what an NFT system is to understand how to turn the valve off and pull the pipes out and how to harvest a head of lettuce properly and bag it. I mean, that’s


Grounded by the Farm  29:43

yeah, the people you had working in there today needed very little instruction. And in fact, we’re going Hello, you know, you’re in my way. Please. Stop. Stop talking to the girl with the camera. Get out of my way.


Aaron Thormodsen  29:58

The folks I I have the pleasure of working with are some of the most ambitious, hardworking and productive people you’ll ever meet.


Grounded by the Farm  30:05

And they look like they’re having fun, too. Yep. Which is that the pride of a job, I think a lot of people in agriculture have that deep sense of pride in their job. And although I was only there briefly, it seemed like all of the people working in the greenhouse had that similar kind of excitement. Absolutely. And commitment to getting it done. And then they had to brighten time coming up, right. So you know, like, everyplace else, people need a break.


Aaron Thormodsen  30:37

And I provide total leniency on breaks might to folks, I know, they’re out there, they’re getting the work done. I mean, they’re honestly probably already done my, you know, check on him. But they, you know, we hire and folks that have disabilities, whether they are disability that they can actually get Social Security for, or one that they can’t, they all have the right to work in the same space. And so as long as they are working reasonably, and not taking frivolous breaks, and you can easily tell the difference, come back in refreshed and ready to roll and they get their work done. Yeah, that’s the way I like it.


Joshua Spain  31:09

For sure. That worked itself, too is four hours, because we want to leave plenty of time in the day and energy in their hopper to do the tasks and to do to go


Grounded by the Farm  31:21

for jobs or housing.


Aaron Thormodsen  31:23

Whatever it is. Housing First.


Grounded by the Farm  31:25

Always Yeah, yeah. Okay, I have to go Aaron is checking his phone. And I tried so hard to make sure I asked all the questions. I knew we’re hearing questions, because he has an important delivery to not mess with chefs when it comes to their delivery. Thank you so much. Thank you. I’m gonna let Josh continue in case there are things I failed the ask. But a pleasure talking with you. I love it. I love it. So. So the shelter has been here a long time eight years, or it was so much that you’ve been doing the farming side? Yeah, it was the 90s or something that the shelter? I believe it was 92. Yeah. Okay, because I did actually try and do my research. Been here a long time. But this is a gorgeous facility.


Joshua Spain  32:22

Yeah. So it’s received a lot of community support private donations, we’re also receiving a lot of support to from the city of Des Moines. Because of the amount of services across the board, we’re able to administer from this one hub, right? We, you know,


Grounded by the Farm  32:45

do you have an idea of how many people you serve a month or?


Joshua Spain  32:49

That’s a moving target. But on average, we’ve got 200 people in the building. Okay. Definitely. We also give away free meals to use under 18. And about five different meal sites across the city right now to So additionally, there’s probably another 100 kids receive a free meal every day, outside these walls, because this is a 18 plus shelter. Okay. And so, you know, still see the need for almost this homelessness prevention efforts. Yeah. So I would say, like, the biggest thing that we face here is getting the community’s support, really support from all sides to administer the services, because we, we accept people that are suffering from mental illness, and a lot of times unless they’re hospitalized, like where else do they go? And so we’re really eager to be a haven. And, you know, that takes support of all kinds.


Grounded by the Farm  34:01

Yeah, I can’t imagine. And the staffing here. First off, seemed like the nicest people everywhere I went, but but you’ve got a really wide set of skills and educational backgrounds and sort of focus on the job.


Joshua Spain  34:18

Absolutely. Yeah. We have very educated case managers. We’ve got plant scientists. We’ve got chefs. Yeah, you name it, but it definitely takes a village.


Grounded by the Farm  34:33

I love it. Well, next time I come to Des Moines, I’m gonna have to come back and see where you are in the establishing of the Agra hood. What is the plan for that? Like, I know you’ve already got raised beds and stuff. So this summer, people in the community could actually just see what you guys have going on in terms of raised beds and stuff, but for sure, that plan of development how


Joshua Spain  34:58

so this season We are getting a lot of volunteer support with those community garden efforts. So you’re planting edible plants and pollinator friendly plants like along the sidewalk and in those perimeter plantings right now. So we’re really focused on at least provide something with the space we’ve got, while we work on the interior. And we plan to break ground, there’s a lot of Earth work needs to be done to develop the parks, and we’re hoping that happens in spring of 24.


Grounded by the Farm  35:33

Okay. So maybe in summer of 25, it’s beginning to get set up closer to what you you’re envisioning.


Joshua Spain  35:43

Yeah, yeah, that’s absolutely that’s pretty.


Grounded by the Farm  35:46

That’s pretty close timeline in the world of, you know, millions of dollars of investment. But


Joshua Spain  35:53

yeah, well, I mean, our I mean, our goal overarching goal is to help end homelessness in so you know, no time like the present, and we’ve definitely got a fire Honduras. Yeah.


Grounded by the Farm  36:05

So if people want to look you guys up, where are you online?


Joshua Spain  36:11

So yeah, you can reach us at Central Iowa. Okay. And we’ve also had, you know, we’re on Facebook and Instagram as well. So mulberry farms, the name of our farm is just like a subsidiary. But, you know, it’s the lines are extremely blurred on purpose.


Grounded by the Farm  36:31

Yeah, the services in the services out, it’s all it’s all worked under the bigger CI SS, for sure. kind of structure. Yeah.


Joshua Spain  36:40

And additionally, you can find this at the downtown Des Moines farmers market this summer or Saturday morning, Erin will be there with our trainees, some lettuce and herbs, to cut flowers and all kinds of goodies.


Grounded by the Farm  36:55

Oh, that sounds perfect. Yeah. So check out the websites, check out the social media properties. If you’re in Des Moines area, check out like their CSAs are coming and some of that kind of stuff, you’re gonna want to stay in touch because there’s a lot of stuff developing said there’s always gonna be something new coming out of mulberry farms and Central Iowa shelter for sure. Yeah,


Joshua Spain  37:17

and don’t, don’t be afraid to reach out because


Grounded by the Farm  37:20

they’re asleep, people like me reach out and we find you and then up here.


Joshua Spain  37:24

We’re totally so our community garden, we already have huge spaces already accessible and usable, with the raised beds and planters that you’d love community support to come in and schedule a time to get their hands dirty. And


Grounded by the Farm  37:41

that volunteer effort really makes a difference. I mean, and it gives you the pride of contributing to your community, right? Like this is something that serving all of Des Moines and this part of Iowa. Yeah. So you can come down, bring either send donations, bring money, but also sweat equity on some of these weekend days or week days, where you’re building more beds and things like that. It’s a perfect way to get that.


Joshua Spain  38:06

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, beyond just our central Iowa location. This business is being modeled in other places in rural Iowa. And so we’re hoping to model that vocational training, job training, farm jobs, like and shelter in tandem, in other places, too. And so we’re, you know, the involvement is unlimited. We’re eager to have new partnerships and new people pitching.


Grounded by the Farm  38:38

I love it. Thanks so much for having us. I can’t wait to share this on the website and get more people familiar with this. And I hope that it drives people in other communities to give some thought to the way maybe they could do something like this in their own community because so many of us are experiencing large numbers of people who are currently homeless, and it’s just it felt incredible walking through here today and stuff and seeing people who are knowing they’re making a difference it it’s very uplifting, as opposed to what some people might think of you no shelters for people who don’t currently have a home.


Joshua Spain  39:15

That’s awesome to hear. Yeah, we glad you you feel welcome. And we hope that the feeling’s shared for sure.


Grounded by the Farm  39:22

Thanks again for having me, Josh.


Joshua Spain  39:24

Thank you.


Grounded by the Farm  39:26

If after that you like me kind of want to help them with their mission. Go to Central Iowa There’s a clear donate page. You can mark it as you want to contribute to the kitchen, the greenhouse, the roof, overhead general, the amounts, they also have Amazon wishlist, I’m going to have lots of links in the show notes and on the website grounded by the And I hope this really spur some ideas. Thanks so much. For listening

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