With food insecurity worsening since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Worcester man is trying to fight hunger one seedling at a time.
"No one in America should be starving," said Charles Luster.
When Luster retired, the former college basketball coach, teacher and businessman first entertained the idea of entering the cannabis business, but he turned his attention to the growing problem of food deserts and food insecurity in his hometown of Worcester.
"Everything I had learned from seed to sell with cannabis works from seed to harvest in the community," Luster said.
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But how do you do that in central Massachusetts year-round?
The answer is hydroponics – and that's the foundation of Luster's nonprofit, "2Gether We Eat."
"With hydroponics, we use water and nutrients," said Luster.
But there's no need for soil. That means Luster can grow fresh produce pretty much anywhere in a fraction of the space.
The plants even grow at Webster Square Daycare Center, with gardeners aged 4 and 5.
"I love planting seeds," said 4-year-old Jayden.
"They turn into veggies and lettuce," said 5-year-old Skylar.
"Such a good enrichment program, for our science component, for our curriculum, and he has just bonded with these children," said Eileen Lavallee, executive director at Webster Square Daycare Center.
And the fruits of their labor stay in the community.
"When some of the mature plants grow, we transport it to a domestic violence shelter, where we provide food for the shelter," Luster said.
More on the fight against food insecurity
He gets help from volunteers like high school senior Max Roy.
Roy, who lives in Worcester but attends Francis W. Parker Charter School in Devens, said, "For my senior project, I'm studying hydroponics, and I'm more looking at the sustainability aspect of it, and I plan to build my own small-scale farm in my basement."
"We don't want to just show them how to do it, we want to teach them how to do it," said Luster.
Sowing the seeds of knowledge is also a big component of 2Gether We Eat, as Luster continues to branch out into community spaces like Worcester Common Ground – where residents will be able to grow their own food just steps from their apartments.
"Even if there is produce in the supermarkets, they're probably expensive," said Worcester Common Ground Community Organizer Annessia Jimenez. "We really want this so people can come up here, get their lettuce, or peppers and bring it back to their apartment and make dinner."
Luster is actively working to expand 2Gether We Eat to create more hydroponic farms throughout the city of Worcester, like here at Union Station, and in other communities who want to collaborate with him.