by Amber

Homeless Man Designs Hydroponic Garden to Feed Homeless

No, there is nothing wrong with how the title is typed. How can a homeless person start a hydroponic garden, let alone feed other homeless people? Sounds pretty crazy.  The other homeless people, by the way, are thousands of miles away from him too. Getting there requires travel by land and sea.

How is this possible?

It started with an architect who went to Haiti with a group from his church in Charlotte, North Carolina. His entire reason for going was desiging shelters for some of the people who are still homeless there after the earthquake. What he discovered was that there were much bigger problems to solve for the homeless Haitians than shelter. Growing food was far more important.

He was clueless as to what to do about it, but driven to do something. A friend told him that he really needed to talk to George. It took a couple of weeks, but they finally met. Turns out that George was homeless, but he knew all about hydroponics. George wasn’t homeless anymore, because the architect had him move into his house. Figuring out how to feed the Haitians was now a joint project.

A few months later, George died, but not before the architect, Ron Morgan, had a plan on paper. The design must not have been finished, because when it was built, the system failed. It wasn’t George’s first hydroponic venture, but that’s another story altogether. Ron couldn’t consult with George when his first try failed, because he had already passed away.

Why not just go to a local grow shop? He did. That’s where this rather unusual senior citizen found his next partner. Once he related his plan to 25 year-old musician Sam Fleming, who managed the shop he went to, Sam quit his job to help get the show on the road. He also convinced Ron that aquaponics was the way to go, not straight hydroponics.

Next they picked up an old colleague of Ron’s who stopped by to say hello, grabbed a shovel and dove right in. Charles’ role is keeping things from getting too crazy. I know. This tale is pretty crazy already, but it’s true, and there is more to come.

Not long after the duo became a trio, a local youth correctional facility called Ron to inquire about helping them renovate an old greenhouse to use for vocational training. Federal grant money allowed them to fix up the greenhouse and install an aquaponics system. The kids now have a 450-gallon tank full of tilapia and the accompanying greens and herbs, plus more gardens to tend outdoors.

Youth correctional facility gardens going in at Stonewall Jackson YDC.

Sometimes, a straight shot isn’t the road that leads you where you need to go. Now for the rest of the story…

Ron Morgan has set an initial goal to raise the funds for the first aquaponics garden to be built in Haiti in 2014. He wants to build another 31 more there, and a total of 67 in North Carolina, for a total of 100 gardens. That’s the name of Morgan’s endeavor, 100 Gardens. Why so many? George insisted. It has to do with fractals and sister cities. It’s all part of the big picture. The correctional facility growing instructor, Gregg Alford, has the gardens for Haiti bug now too. The incarcerated teenagers at Stonewall Jackson Youth Training Facility? They’re going to Haiti as the labor to put it all together. Charles is working at a plastics factory, and that musician/grow shop manager, Sam Fleming? He’s in the thick of it all for the long haul.

George Powell, the homeless guy, fed no one this time around, but he definitely wanted to. He was excited about feeding the homeless in Haiti. He talked about it constantly to friends and family until the very end of his struggle with liver cancer. He was the king pin. George started the ball rolling that led to here.

“And isn’t it ironic? In the end it turned out to be a homeless man who knew precisely what to do – send the tools people need to help themselves.  ~  Ron Morgan”

Get the rest of George’s story here – it is well worth reading. You can learn more about Ron Morgan’s venture at www.100Gardens.org. You can also follow the action at the correctional facility by reading Sam’s posts on the Stonewall Jackson garden blog.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 Comment
  • Jamie says:

    Great story to highlight, but you’ve done it in a really problematic way. It’s not surprising or “crazy” or “ironic” that George was successful in his project. It sounds like he was an authority on the subject of hydroponic gardening already, and connected with the homeless community he wanted to serve. What made him successful was his prior knowledge and an asset-based approach. Assuming he doesn’t have the capacity or intelligence to do this based on his unsheltered status is offensive and dehumanizing.


The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.