by Amber

Aquaponics: Change Grows in the Hood

One inner city Kansas City neighborhood is in the midst of change thanks to aquaponics, and the work of a resident recently returned from the world at large. Dre Taylor is busy building a self-sustaining urban farm capable of growing 175,000 pounds of fresh, organic food a year on the city’s east side. It’s the urban core. A food desert poster child kind of place blighted by crime, and the lack of economic opportunity.

Dre grew up here. He left to attend college, play some football, and he could have gone on to pursue several professional careers, but his dream was to change the hood from the inside out. To bring hope, a future, and healthy food to those who live in the blocks surrounding his Nile Valley Aquaponics farm at 29th and Wabash Avenue. His plan is multi-faceted, but centers around intense food production on just over half an acre of land that has stood vacant for 20 years.

From the moment construction began, folks around the hood were curious what was happening on this corner lot that had been nothing but trees and mowed weeds for so long. The greenhouse is 144 feet long. Volunteers from all over the country have been working on building the new home of 3 canal-like trenches that will soon be home to 75,000 gallons of water filled with organically grown local tilapia that will provide non-stop nutrition for vertical farming above the tanks. Fish food will also be grown on site: soldier flies and duckweed.

The project is┬áthe first commercial aquaponics system in the city, and the foundation of a youth mentoring program. At full production it will yield 100,000 pound of fish, and 75,000 pounds of vegetables annually. It will also instantly create 5-7 jobs upon construction completion – in a neighborhood where employment is all but non-existent. The harvest will provide free food for the community at the same time it generates sales to finance workers’ paychecks.

While he’s the man with the plan, Dre is project manager for the Kansas City Keys Nile Valley Aquaponics Project, and the integrated Males to Men program. What better place to provide an education in hope than on a farm? Be it in the urban core, or in an extremely rural location, growing food germinates hope for the future.

Taylor looks at his 30-some Males to Men youths as seeds planted in the hood… boys who will learn a lot more than most other kids today. It’s not just about raising fish and growing food, he’s introducing them to being pilots, and so much more. A vast world of agri-science exploration paired with larger world experiences that inner city kids outside his program may never have exposure too. He wants them all to get their pilot’s license, to absorb all that’s entailed in successfully growing sustainable food anywhere. His goal is to raise men who can replicate his aquaponics farm, wherever they land as adults.

If his youth program succeeds, he’ll be growing superweeds in a food desert that cast to the wind will spread the basis for a better life in cities far and wide. If you’re going to raise true change, it must be able to thrive in a variety of environments, to be self-nurturing and self-empowering. That’s what real sustainability is all about, and why weeds are a bane world wide. It’s hard to keep a determined, resource savvy weed population down.

Dre Taylor plans to build both solar and wind energy generation into aquaponics farm resources. He doesn’t state taking it totally off-grid is part of his grand scheme in his TEDx presentation, but he does say it will be totally self-sustainable. That’s pretty much the same as off-grid. (Patience with the malfunctioning microphone at the beginning of the video. They’ll bring him one that works pretty quick.)

Every inner city neighborhood could use a person with Taylor’s vision. So could many other communities – urban, suburban, and rural. It’s a lesson in building independence in a highly dependent world.

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.