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Proximity - by Nicole Seredenko

Each morning of the school week started the same way. Father Jim Mitchell and Harriett Baker walked to school together, a twenty-minute walk that was shortened by cutting through the farmer’s market. At a quarter before seven, every Wednesday, the local makers and growers were still setting up their stands for the day ahead. “Have you ever tried the honey from one of those stands? It’s remarkable,” Fr. Jim said. “I never have. And why is it remarkable?” “Well, these beekeepers make the honey in their backyard - they must only be two miles away from the school. I brought some to Sunday dinner at the soup kitchen. Besides the taste, I found the proximity remarkable. Straight to the table of people who needed it.” “Proximity,” Harriett repeated. “Jim, have you ever heard of vertical farming?” “Of course,” He said. “Only read about it in the papers, really. That type of technology is beyond me. How did it come to mind?” “Proximity,” She said with a shrug. “It’s a way to grow local produce, in any space you can.” “Surely big grocery chains only experiment with that sort of thing.” “I could experiment with it in the classroom,” She said with a small shrug, then a devious smirk came to her lips. “My biology class could become a lot more interesting.” “What would be the purpose of it? For mere pleasure?” He asked. “You liked the honey because you could take it straight to the people who needed it,” She said. “What if our students could take even more food to those people who need it? That they grow themselves?” “I would be amazed,” He said. “But I’m sure the people who need a meal on Sunday evenings would simply be grateful.” It started with a simple idea, posed to the sixteen students in her morning biology class. She read suspicion from some, unwaivered enthusiasm from others, and a few silent members. They poked holes in the strategy. They doubted whether it would go beyond 35 the growth of a few basil leaves for taste, but a handful of students decided to try, if only to entertain their favourite teachers’ curiosities. The Farm for Father Mitchell, as the students named it, started in the back of the biology classroom, on repurposed shelves and LED lights. Father Mitchell made his requests to Harriett, who fed them back to her students - basil to start, yes, but then also spinach, romaine, and cucumber. Space ran out in the back of the classroom, so home-grown vegetables bled into emptied closets. Then on top of desks. Then the classroom itself. Soon Fr. Mitchell did not need to feed requests, so he picked the produce himself between theology lessons and soup kitchen preparations. Plates were filled on Sunday nights, then baskets were filled for people to take with them for the week. The farm overflowed out of the classroom, by the students’ will. Some built their own at home, nestled in a kitchen crevice or on a bookshelf. And Harriett Baker’s students nourished the fruit of future biology students, who fed its expansion. A journalist requested a tour when Mrs. Baker retired. A supermarket manager followed. People marvelled at a self-sufficient microcosm of the world, but many did not yet dare to try it for themselves. But students from other schools took to their own vertical farming projects, and Father Mitchell took the idea to other parishes. These farms were nestled in urban corners, sustaining those who were in need of them. Eventually, bigger spaces were needed to meet community demands - abandoned warehouses and buildings that could not be put to better use. Local communities no longer needed to spend on transporting large sums of foreign produce, and farmer’s markets were filled with students selling products that were once part of a mere experiment. When supermarkets needed to cut costs and meet higher goals for a better world, they came to them. Vertical farming flourished, from charitable work for a single community to crafting self-sustaining communities. Sustenance now came from proximity. In the years to come, however, many would begin to take part in the joy of proximity.

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