YOUNGSTOWN — In the corner of a parking lot on the North Side, 35 cinder-block planters overflowing with produce occupy the spaces, a leafy green oasis in a sea of drab gray concrete.
The planters are part of Flying HIGH Inc.’s GROW Urban Farm, an organic, sustainable crop-diverse farm in the parking lot of the former Cafaro Hospital near the corner of Bissell Avenue and Bryson Street.
The farm — which produces collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes, beets, potatoes and basil, among other crops — is tended by students of Flying HIGH Inc.’s job training and placement program, and serves as much more than a means of food production: It’s also the site of a weekly farmers market.
The market features food grown on site — often harvested that morning — and is open every Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at 77 Bissell Ave. Currently the market accepts only cash and senior vouchers, though it will soon accept EBT for purchases through food-assistance programs.
Flying HIGH Inc’s students, including individuals recovering from drug addiction or who have recently been released from prison, are looking to retrain and restart their careers. The nonprofit organization offers job training in medical fields and welding and operates adjacent programs such as a drug recovery home and the GROW Urban Farm and Northeast Community Market.
Parker Maynard, a caseworker at Flying HIGH and overseer of the farm, said the program provides workers with an incubator environment to help them re-acclimate to the workplace.
“Our farm workers are on a career path here,” Maynard said. “They get job training in the school then work here at the farm where they can readjust to working a day to day job. They have a vision for their future once they’re done with their job training, and I think that momentum helps keep the farm going.”
Maynard, who learned to grow during his time at Slippery Rock University and has since renovated a farm in the Dominican Republic and run a composting co-op and farmers market, said that the market also provides access to fresh fruits and vegetables in a part of the city without a nearby grocery store.
“I think access to healthy food plays a huge role in the overall health of society, so I think we can have a big impact here,” Maynard said.
Jeff Magada, executive director of Flying HIGH Inc., said the farm, which now includes a greenhouse, tool shed, market, planters and the frame of a soon-to-be second greenhouse, was little more than a parking lot next to an unused storage building in 2013 when he acquired the property.
He hopes to continue to grow the farm, eventually establishing remote distribution centers to extend their reach.
The farm provides produce to the Downtown Youngstown Farmers Market, Cultivate Co-Op Cafe and Ohio Valley Teen Challenge.
Jason Wilson, Joshua Denson and Roderick Marsh are three of the Flying HIGH students regularly working the farm, and said they enjoy the serenity of the work and that they valued the friendships they’ve made since they began working as farmers.
“It’s been a blessing really,” Denson said. “I’ve been able to learn a new skill, learn how to grow my own food, and it’s just a very relaxing environment. It’s good work.”