CONCORD | Produce grown by students at Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center is helping to feed the homebound of Cabarrus County. A special partnership to donate the vegetables grown as part of the youth development center’s horticulture program sprouted in October between Cabarrus County Meals on Wheels, the youth development center and 100 Gardens LLC, a Charlotte-based initiative working to connect the area community to struggling communities in Haiti. Sam Fleming from 100 Gardens modeled this partnership upon a similar collaboration in Charlotte between Friendship Trays and Friendship Gardens….read more
“Charlotte’s Adventist Christian Academy is excited about partnering with 100 Gardens this year as we move our educational program to match the goals of the S.T.E.M. initiative. We are looking for ways to create healthier, more ecologically conscious and higher thinking citizens for tomorrow’s world. We also want our students to be involved with taking a role in helping our less fortunate neighbors in a practical and sustainable way, even at the earliest of elementary school grade levels. The Aquaponics lab as designed and supported by 100 Gardens is a huge part of meeting these goals on our campus. It’s ability to connect us with other learners both locally and internationally is taking our students educational experience way beyond the classroom. 100 Gardens’ is our connection to the future of education in 2015.”
The aquaponics operation at Garinger High School has begun! Students will be managing and operating the aquaponics system that will produce 180 servings of leafy greens per week and 300 lbs of catfish for by next may for Friendship Trays. The aquaponic system will also provide hands on learning opportunities for the students. Ongoing costs and additional maintenance is providing by Friendship Gardens.
The 100 Gardens Experiential Learning Development Team (Including teachers from Garinger, West Meck, CPCC and growing) is currently developing experiential learning activities that align NC essential standards with activities relating to aquaponics. This may include but is not limited to AP Environmental Science, Statistics, Functions and Advanced Modeling, World and US History, Visual and Graphic Arts, Culinary arts, Business and Marketing. This is an ongoing process and will evolve through collaboration.
Today the AP Environmental Science class, led by Nemal Patel, tested an recorded critical water quality parameters, recorded the amount of fish feed administered, and seeded 250 lettuce plants. Over the course of the year, several classes will perform activities that relate to their specific standards.
The students are excited about growing food for those who need it the most, and are having a blast learning by doing. Stay tuned for updates…
All the concrete has been poured for the grow beds and the fish tank. The crew has done an excellent job and now they will proceed to plaster a smooth finish on the concrete. We are now returning to Charlotte and will let the concrete cure for a month. Upon our return we will seal the concrete and assemble to pump lines and aeration system. Also the cover structure, storage building and solar system will be in place when we return.
Today the crew began pouring the concrete walls for the growing beds. The plywood was the 3/4″ thick board and had to be cut by hand, just as everything has to be done in Mahanaim. There is electricity here so if battery powered tools were available they could be charged and progress would speed up dramatically. Nonetheless the crew worked all day cutting the boards to size and framing the walls. By the end of the long day two of the growing beds had been poured before we ran out of plywood. Tomorrow we will remove the plywood and use it to frame the last growing bed and fish tank.
It rained here for the first time since I have been here and it was quite a relief to get some cool weather in the evening. The tin roof shattered with sound but I can deal with that given the cooler night. It looks as though I will need to return on a later date to begin operation of the system as we will have finished construction, but we will not have the correct growing medium. Things are very difficult to find in Haiti, and much more expensive. Shipping to Haiti is very inefficient and since most products are not manufactured here, the cost of everything is higher than one would expect in a developing nation. This makes life even more difficult for the poorest population in the Western Hemisphere.
When I return I will try and find a way to deliver the rest of the materials we need either in the USA or hopefully in Haiti. I have seen some swimming pools here but the epoxy paint may have been imported. Finding a suitable growing medium will be very difficult as most gravel and sand here is combined with various different rock types and soil. If we come to a point where we just cannot find a source for the substrate we may just have to try and source from the Dominican Republic. We would likely not be able to bring in truckloads of medium but perhaps we could bring in styrofoam sheets for a raft system. This would be disappointing because I feel in a place with limited electricity that the flood and drain system would be more appropriate. Only time will tell. With that being said we are on the right track.
Productivity was in the air today in Mahanaim. The construction crew got started at 8am and worked until 7pm with only about 30 minutes to rest and eat. I feel so out of shape when I see how these guys work. They assembled all of the rebar frames for the walls of the growing beds and poured the concrete floors for the growing beds and the fish tank. Luiguy rented a concrete mixer and by the end of the day we mixed 53 bags of cement and all of the gravel and sand to make the concrete. The workers had a procedure for getting everything mixed correctly and rapidly. Several guys gathered buckets of sand and gravel, while another group poured bag after bag of cement into the mixer, followed by the sand and gravel, and then water. The concrete then was poured into the rebar frames and was flattened with precision, by hand.
I have noticed that there is no half-assing when it comes to work in Mahanaim. The concrete was carefully spread across the frames and into every possible crevice. Then it was smoothed out by a 2×4 piece of lumber until perfectly smooth. This garden will be the strongest aquaponics system ever for its size, that I have seen at least. 1000 years from now humans will be studying it saying “these primitive humans in 2014 grew fish and plants together, and they actually had to monitor it and plant things, silly animals”.
All in all it was an exhausting day given the long hours and the blazing hot weather but we should be finished pouring the concrete tomorrow! Once this is finished we will start construction of the open air building that will shade the fish tank and the storage room for the solar system batteries and supplies. By the end of the week we should be testing the pumps and have the air blower and diffuser lines installed. After we can test that the water is flowing correctly we will take pictures, empty the tanks so the concrete can cure, and head back to the USA. We will then try to find a solution for sealing or treating the concrete to neutralize the alkalinity. This will either be a scrubbing of the surfaces with phosphoric acid, or an application of epoxy paint. At the same time we are figuring this out we will be finding a source for suitable gravel or course sand for the growing substrate and I will be training the lead agronomist via email. He will be responsible for operating the system after we are gone. Now I am set to drink a warm Haitian beer and get a great nights sleep after a hard days work. Y’all come back now…ya hear?!
Progress continued today as we finished all the drainage plumbing and also completed the rebar assembly for the in-ground fish tank. We could not procure any PVC primer for the plumbing so we just used a liberal amount of PVC cement, hopefully it will hold forever. I asked the owner of the local hardware store why they do not have any primer and he told me that he has never used it and everything would be ok. So I am banking on that.
This system is going to be a work of art when it is completed. The covering for the fish tank is quite large and will serve as a sitting area and heat refuge for students and system operators. The fish tank will appear more as a recreational pond but will be a functioning “raceway” type culture unit, eventually with sliding dividers to separate different age groups of fish. We plumbed the drain lines with intent for expansion so we have pipe clean outs on both ends of the growing beds and future drain lines for additional growing beds will be extended from the clean out ports.
It is becoming apparent why growing various crops can be so difficult in Haiti. As the crew was digging the huge pit for the fish tank, you could see that no matter how deep you dig, there is an abundance of rocks. So many rocks that digging is extremely difficult and you have to use a pick axe just to break up the soil. The soil holds very little water, the climate is scorching hot, and irrigation water must be applied by hand to the entire field. I noticed that the only crops I have seen traveling all through Haiti are mostly bananas, plantains, okra, beans and castor beans. The bananas root very deep and do not require as much attention as a shallow rooted vegetable. The okra can tolerate very hot climates and the beans are mostly planted underneath the bananas the provide shade. I’m sure this contributed to the soil fertility because they are legumes, but they grow rather leggy looking for sunlight. If we can show that alternative forms of agriculture work here, it will be very beneficial in increasing the diversity of crops that can be grown.
In industrialized nations it can be difficult to have a profitable aquaponics business because the marketing of different crops is challenging. In Haiti there is very little high quality produce…period. If you have high quality vegetables and fish, and can find transportation to the right markets, you will not have any trouble selling out. The challenge is finding the capital to invest in the construction and ongoing operational costs. It is possible to run a system with no electricity if someone can manually pull buckets up from the fish tank by way of a pulley and fill the beds several times a day. This may seem very labor intensive but farmers in Haiti already have much labor to do in their gardens such as back breaking cultivation of soil, weeding and watering. This system we are building is modeled after the IAVS system invented my Dr. mark McMurtry from North Carolina State University in the mid eighties. We so far do not have access to builders grade sand but we are trying to find a similar gravel type medium. I have spoken with Mark over the phone twice and he was very helpful in giving me suggestions on how such a system could be operated in Haiti, as he did extensive work all around the world, including rural areas of Africa. If you didn’t know Mark McMurtry was the inventor of what people now call the “flood and drain” aquaponics system.
To finish the day I went out on the road with our Haitian friend Carlos who took me to several stores looking for tissue paper and gasoline. Every single stop I got many comments about how I look like Jesus. I find this hilarious and this also happens to me in the states. It is not intentional but I am in a heavy metal band and when you are in Haiti, a white guy with long hair and a beard, you will get many Jesus remarks. One teenager actually came up to me and said “Jesus please forgive me for my sins”, as he then proceeded to laugh with his friends. I laughed and said, “there is no hope for you my son, I am sorry”