Aquaponics: Green Acres Urban farming in KC
When most people think of a food garden, they envision a small backyard plot of tilled soil filled with rows of beans, corn, lettuce, tomatoes and other types of vegetables proudly sprouting out of the ground. Now imagine large containers filled with water, fish and plants. It’s a combination of aquaculture, the raising of fish, and hydroponics, the soilless growing of plants and together you get Aquaponics. What exactly is Aquaponics? Simply described as fish wastewater that provides an organic food source for plants. For the last five years Green Acres Urban Farm and Research Project, a nonprofit brainchild of community advocate Carol Coe, has been leading the way using Aquaponics to teach people in the urban core how to grow healthy food.
UAW Local 249 Community Services member William, “Bill” Coe is the director of the project. Bill, who is Carol’s son, says that this all came about because of his mother’s vision of how she could best help the urban core. “My mom saw this project and realizing the problem that we were having in our community with healthy food choices decided to teach people how to grow their own healthy food,” Bill said. He has done extensive study in commercial agriculture training with some of the premier people across the country to get educated on the process of Aquaponics.
The Green Acres facility is located at the East High School Campus in green houses that were previously closed down years ago by the school. The Green Acres team refurbished the green houses and collaborated with the Kansas City Missouri School District, the City of Kansas City Missouri, Lincoln University, and the community itself to help teach children all about Aquaponics and the art of healthy gardening. They were one of this year’s recipients of an award grant, Energizing Our Environment Microgrant Program, from Kansas City Power and Light for their sustainability project. Their main goal in this project is to teach the community about healthy food and how to grow it yourself. A great benefit of this project is all the food that they harvest is distributed right back within the community through a free farmers market or just handling out to teachers and students. There is no comparison to the food that they grow verses what you purchase in the supermarket. Their food is fresh off the urban farm, not something that was grown out of state and transported to market losing tremendous amounts of nutritional value along the way. The fish used in the project are Missouri fish from partner Osage Catfisheries located in Osage Beach Missouri, Bill says, and they have a great working relationship with them. They have close to 250 fish in use that are mainly blue gill, catfish and Koi. They are fed a high organic diet and they use all the waste products from the fish in their Aquaponics system. When the fish mature, they are usually given to the students or senior citizens.
The Green Acres Project is unique in that it is a hands on adventure for area schoolchildren. “One of the projects we are involved in is a pilot program that I wrote to teach kids how to learn this type of technology training,” Bill said. I’ve developed a 12-week program where once a week, we get a group of fourth graders that come in and we teach them how to plant and grow food. They each dress like researchers and get to wear a lab coat. We talk about composting, recycling, and Aquaponics. “We are teaching kids how to farm urban. We have to farm in a context where we don’t have farmland, so how do we take advantage of what we do have. How do we create the fish and the plant ratio, and how do we grow our food. We are farming; we just have to use our resources differently. A really cool thing about this project is when I’m training the kids; they are actually learning how to grow food. Our system is used in over 100 countries worldwide.” They raise funds and get support from volunteers and other funding comes by grants in their partnerships.
They want to show people the process and talk to them about the opportunities and scholarships available to go through a program like theirs, Bill says. There are universities out here that give kids full ride scholarships for this type of science and technology. It takes many volunteers to keep a project of this magnitude up and running and as director, Bill takes on many tasks himself. Bill works on the IP line in Truck Trim on C-Crew and after work each day he comes in and does everything it takes to keep the place operating. “It’s not work if you love what you’re doing,” he says. “We just got with AARP and we became a training facility for senior citizens so I will be training some senior’s to come in and help with the project.” Bill, who recently joined the UAW Local 249 Community Services Committee, said a motivating factor of getting involved in the union came right from his upbringing. “My mom has always been involved in civil rights,” Bill said. I was a little kid when she was an elected official and often witnessed how she helped people and championed causes in the community. She always told me that you have to stand up for the injustices of the world so I grew up with that mindset.” “I also grew up with the union,” he said.
My mom was a strong supporter of the union and so I wanted to be part of the union. I started looking at UAW Local 249 when I came to Ford two years ago. When I first came on board, I went to orientation and was educated about the union.” “I learned what they believed in, what they fought for and what they stand for. Given the current climate of the times, the union is needed now more than ever, so I felt like when Jason Starr, Tony Renfro and some others were running for office, it kind of inspired me to participate.” “I have always been encourage to participate, that is my mom’s mantra,” Bill says. If you are going to change something, be a part of something, you have to participate, and then you can show some progress.
That’s what we do, that’s what I wanted to do so I finally got involved with UAW Local 249. “My other background is in entrepreneurship and so taking on the not for profit model, I was just looking at how do we get all this food and this education out to people and start changing and start the food conversation in Kansas City.”
For more information on Green Acres Urban Farm and Research project and how you can become involved, please visit their website at https://www.gogreenacreskc.org.