At Johnson C. Smith University, growing produce and raising fish is not just a one-time project for Science class, but is a continuous, on-going effort to aid the surrounding community in need.
The university is located in the middle of the West Corridor, which has been named a food desert. Fresh produce is not readily available to the community and JCSU President Dr. Ronald Carter said he could not sit by without helping.
"As we did an audit of the area, we realized that we are in a food desert, we, the university and the neighborhood associations,” he said. “So we asked the essential question, what must we do in order to address that issue? And the answer came- a sustainability village."
The Sustainability Village is a combination of raised beds, greenhouses, hydro and aquaponics. Since last year, the garden has harvested 200 pounds of food that has been directly donated to the west side community.
Dr. Carter said when the village launched last year, the turnout was incredible.
"There was a great response to the launch of the sustainability garden in fact, we had to bring in more chairs because we had more people turn out than expected, and since then, folks have been coming in to get vegetables,” he said.
The program is run by Dr. Philip Otlenoburu and is maintained by students at the university. He said the aquaponics system is one of the most innovative parts of the village. Fish tanks are connected by a series of pipes and plumbing to water tables were plants grow on top. The fish’s excrement’s feed the plants and in turn, the plants clean the water for the tanks.
"Aquaponics refers to a program where you not only grow fish, but grow plants in one closed cycle,” he said. “So the fish actually produce their natural waste which helps re-fertilize the plants."
Dr. Otlenoburu said that students involved with the village are learning techniques to take around the world to implement, addressing issues such a global food insecurity and poverty.
Christophe Fatton is a senior at JCSU and is pre-med. He is studying in the United States and plans on going back to his home country of Haiti this summer to bring aquaponics to the people there.
"With this idea, implementing something that can help a country long term, it’s great,” he said. “I enjoy the idea, I love it, I work in it every day with a passion. It’ also just like showing people, listen, if he's doing it, we can bring more students here who are interested the same thing that can benefit their needs and their community back home."