Solutions Farms

The greenhouse at Solutions Farms is cool, humid, and bright, vibrating with activity as employees tend rows of white trays overflowing with lettuces. Solutions Farms—a 2-acre, commercial aquaponic farm—opened in 2012 in Vista to serve as a social enterprise for the Solutions for Change family homelessness program. The farm employees are participants in the program, previously homeless adults who have overcome addiction and may have few of the appropriate skills to build a career to support their families. In the greenhouse, they gain experience working in a professional production facility and learn soft skills like teamwork to help them obtain and sustain employment. 

Jennifer Pankey, previous manager of Solutions Farms and graduate of the Solutions for Change program, did not imagine she would ever work in soilless agriculture: “I was not interested in aquaponics. Not even a little bit. In fact, I don’t even think I’d ever even heard of it before.” In her position, she helped run the farm, managing its organic certification and mentoring its employees. Today, Jennifer acts as an Empowerment Director of Program Services, and gets to work closely with program participants, admittedly her favorite aspect of her time in the greenhouse. Like Jennifer and many of her peers, the Solutions Farms enterprise has proven an incredible success story. In 2017, Solutions for Changes reported that its participants on average tripled their annual income after their first year in the program to upwards of $20,000, all the while building a career in the local food system. The farm has been a vital aspect of this success. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the farm primarily sold their produce to restaurants. Today, you will find it in the Solutions Farms community supported agriculture (CSA) box alongside produce from over 30 other local, organic San Diego farms. The farm plans to expand in 2021 and provide even more opportunities for participants to participate in the food system and serve the local community.

Jennifer Pankey is the Empowerment Director of Program Services at Solutions for Change, former manager of Solutions Farms, and graduate of the Solutions for Change program. Jennifer formerly helped operate the farm and maintain its organic certification, now she works closely with program participants, acting as a mentor and leader across the program.

Blaire O’Neal, PhD, is a a postdoctoral research fellow with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the United States Department of Agriculture and Adjunct Professor at San Diego State University. Her areas of expertise include urban geography, political ecology and food studies. The main question that drives her research is: “How can urban food systems integrate sustainability and social justice?”

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