Using Hydroponics to Help the Homeless in Spokane, Washington

A gentle trickle of water now replaces the sound of a television in the living room of the Smith's home in Spokane. You won't find a couch, only flowering cucumbers, crisp lettuce, green beans, and strawberries- all ingredients to create fresh, healthy salads for homeless men, women, and children in our community..

"My mission is to do what I can to help. I'm just trying to do anything to help the food banks and shelters," said 18-year-old Donovan Smith.

We first met 18-year-old Donovan Smith last year as he handmade hundreds of soap bars for the most vulnerable populations in Spokane. His soap-making skills and heart for serving others gained him national attention and accolades. He's donated more than 20,000 bars of soap over the past decade or so. Now, he's planting a new seed of hope.

"A few months ago, I was just sitting down and looking at what is the need. I started researching hydroponics," said Donovan.

Through the help of YouTube videos, online groups, and the support of his mom, Casey, Donovan turned the family living room into a hydroponic garden. Hydroponics is essentially indoor gardening without soil. Instead, gardeners use nutrient-dense mixtures and lights to expedite the growing process.

Donovan is growing 90 heads of lettuce, a couple of buckets of green beans, strawberries, and cucumbers. Once the produce is ready for harvest, he creates individual salads in 16-ounce cups and drops them off at Jewels Helping Hands and Our Place Community Outreach. He's donated more than 150 salads and individual dressing packets in the past month or so.

"It's just who he is. What impresses me is that he realizes there is more he can do, and he kept seeing the food insecurity and the food bank needs. Soap isn't what people need right now. They need food," said Casey, Donovan's mom.

The heart for serving others comes from a deep sense of empathy and compassion. Casey and Donovan know what it's like to go without. About a decade ago, the family lived in a homeless shelter.

"When we were homeless, it was a luxury to have a salad. A salad isn't always the first option to get. If you don't have a refrigerator, how do you keep a salad fresh?" said Casey.

Donovan is documenting and sharing his Hydrofarm for the Homeless experience on social media and asking for support through a GoFundMe page. He recently received a $250 grant from the WE movement and The Hershey's Company for his work. Donovan plans to use the grant to purchase new lights for the indoor garden.

"I wasn't expecting that," said Donovan.

Donovan plans to grow fresh produce for as long as there is a need. It's more than a cup of salad; it's nutrients for the soul.

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