Dr. Jay Mitchell, a 51-year-old Rochester pediatrician, is the founder of Raising Rochester, an urban gardening project that will supply fresh, organic produce to needy families and local businesses.
The program is run by KidzKare, a Rochester non-profit dedicated to helping local children in need.
Mitchell, who works as a full-time pediatrician at Kidz1st Pediatrics in Rochester Hills, began volunteering in 2011 at the fresh vegetable and herb garden of the food pantry in Rochester’s First Congregational United Church of Christ (FCC).
Plans to expand the garden were halted in 2012 when FCC ran out of planting space, but Mitchell had an idea for expanding the garden beyond church grounds.
According to Mitchell, using man-made planting beds allows gardens to exist anywhere.
His method of growing organic produce uses eight-foot by four-foot beds that are divided into square feet to utilize as much space as possible and produce the most crops.
This raised-bed planting method was adapted from author and gardening enthusiast Mel Bartholomew’s book “All New Square Foot Gardening,” Mitchell said.
Square-foot gardening is unique because of the absence of dirt as a growing medium, Mitchell said. Instead, plants are grown in a mixture of equal parts peat moss, the mineral vermiculite and compost, a substance called “Mel’s Mix” after its creator Mel Bartholomew.
This mix is also organic, Mitchell explained, and no chemicals or pesticides are used during the growing process.
When done correctly, this type of gardening can produce “between 5 and 20 times the amount of produce” than traditional farming, he said.
“If you got 10 pounds of tomatoes at home, that would be really good,” he said. “But we’ll get at least 40-50 pounds of tomatoes from each plant.”