First Baptist Church of Yoakum, Texas is taking part in a renewable energy mission trip offered by New Vision in the rural community of Philippi, West Virginia. Today, I spoke with 17 year-old, Daquan White who is a mission volunteer. At home, Daquan can routinely be found shooting hoops on the basketball court or solving complex math problems for sheer entertainment but this week he has chosen to spend his spare time learning how to build an aquaponics farming system.
Daquan's friendly smile and an unassuming demeanor draw me out. He is shoveling gravel to be taken to the hydroponics subsystem in five gallon buckets and readily assisting those around him, even stopping to extend a steady hand to someone stepping off a steep bank. Although Daquan has participated in mission work before, he has never been involved with renewable energy projects or visited West Virginia. He is excited to see another part of the country and participate in something that has the potential for such far-reaching impact. "I would really love to do something like this in Texas if I had the opportunity. It can help people in places like Africa to grow plants and vegetables in a way that is good for the environment and is something we all can learn to do."
Aquaponics, refers to a sustainable food production system that combines hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) and aquaculture (raising aquatic animals like fish, snails, etc.) in a single symbiotic environment. It has been done for thousands of years in places like Japan where koi fish swim among flowering lily pads, each helping the other to survive and in turn supporting plant life. The term "Aquaponics" has recently been coined commercially during the last 10 years with the only difference being the type of plants grown. This modern application simply replaces traditional plants with ones that produce a food source, like tomatoes or papaya. These types of technologies can be used to help developing regions of the world where food scarcity is an issue.
The project work site is located at the home of John & Kathy Prusa. John is New Vision's resident "Mad Scientist" and has an unquenchable thirst and passion for helping others by developing affordable renewable energy solutions. He has virtually eliminated his own electric bill and auto fuel needs, living almost entirely off the grid through continued efforts to reduce his energy dependency; now he wants to help others do the same. John adds to his growing number of experiments weekly. Renewable energy projects surround his home on all sides and include solar arrays, evacuated solar tubes, efficiency tracking systems, alternative heating and cooling systems, biodiesel production, and after this week, an Aquaponics farming project.
New Vision has brought in Aquaponics expert Aaron Flora from Huntington Beach, California to assist with this project. Ruston Seaman, Executive Director of New Vision, recently met Aaron in Philadelphia at The Simple Way during an aquaponics build where New Vision provided the solar panels to generate the energy needed to pump water and aerate the system.
Aaron became actively involved with aquaponics about 6 years ago during his work in Panama where he would spend up to 6 months at a time over several years doing mission work. He noticed the nutritional deficiencies among the indigenous people due to their diet of primarily fish and rice and how it affected bone mass without a good source of iron. Aquaponics farming is ideal for securing a food source in areas of the world where food is in short supply and nutritional needs are not being met. Aaron plans to introduce new systems in Kenya next month (July 2012).
Seeing young people like Daquan catch the fever for learning about practical renewable energy solutions and how to apply them is infectious and offers hope to a world that is facing hard challenges and choices concerning future energy consumption and production. Daquan says his dream is to become an engineer and it occurs to me that it his generation that will be shaping the future of our people and planet. Perhaps the seed has now been planted to become a Renewable Energy Engineer.
In a hungry, thirsty world, with a growing population, the need for healthy food and clean water increases daily. Global choices include finding new resources or manage the resources that are available in a more productive way. Aquaponics is a marriage of Aqua culture, the raising of fish and Hydro Ponics the raising of vegetables with water and liquid fertilizer.