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Making Headlines For More Than 160 Years

Date of Publication: 
09/28/2013

UDC Welcomes Community to Southeast DC with Urban Aquaponics Project

Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony attended by federal, District and community partners

Click here to download press release.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, the University of the District of Columbia's College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) celebrated the launch of a neighborhood-sized aquaponics facility located in the southeastern quadrant of Washington, D.C. The project is the result of a collaborative effort between the College and ReGeneration House of Praise Church. The ribbon-cutting was attended by representatives from USDA, the D.C. Government, UDC and the community. The new aquaponics facility, funded by a Wells Fargo grant, will enable the church to raise fish and grow fresh food using cutting-edge technology.

In an effort to continue providing initiatives for economic growth and job creation for underserved D.C. neighborhoods, the project marks the second of a multi-phase plan that brings together CAUSES and ReGeneration. The first phase was a "hoop house" or a portable greenhouse that CAUSES built in Ward 8, near Martin Luther King Avenue. The aquaponics facility is located inside of the hoop house, allowing the by product from hundreds of Tilapia to recirculate and fertilize the vegetables growing inside of and around the greenhouse.

Led by Pastor Cheryl Mitchell Gaines, ReGeneration House of Praise, also known as "The Church in the Field," is on a mission to cultivate a "Garden of Eden." Project Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally (EDEN)™ will do just that, enabling the church to grow both food and jobs.

"Not only does EDEN stand for 'Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally,' but as this project progressed, I realized it could also be interpreted as 'Everyone Doing Everything Necessary to make a positive difference,'" Pastor Gaines explained before the more than 100 attendees who crowded around the small lot behind a multi-family building in Anacostia, a neighborhood in Ward 8, D.C.

Since the construction of the hoop house in early 2013, the church has been supplying the community with freshly grown vegetables, as well as promoting self-empowerment by teaching the community how to grow and tend to a garden. Projects like EDEN help to promote food security, or the availability and accessibility to healthy food. A venture such as this is important to this section of D.C. because Ward 8 is known as a food desert, meaning the area does not have access to fresh and nutritious food.

Remarking on the need for better nutrition and economic empowerment, Dr. James E. Lyons, President of the University of the District of Columbia, explained, "This looks like where I grew up. I grew up on chicken wings because there was no fresh food; no grocery stores. Even driving here today, I only saw fast food options. We want to help change that and change lives in the process, as we work together to build healthy communities and job skills."

Anacostia and the surrounding area only have three grocery stores. Residents of food deserts often are supplied by inexpensive fast food venues, resulting in food related health issues including obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Indeed, Ward 8 has the highest obesity rate in D.C. and also has a 22 percent unemployment rate.

The aquaponics project extends Regeneration's capacity to grow food, by introducing an aquaculture component. Aquaponics is the combination of growing plants in water (hydroponics) with raising fish (aquaculture). In this type of ecosystem, fish provide the nutrients to fertilize the plants that are grown using the same water source; and in turn, the plants filter the water from the fish waste. No pesticides, antibiotics or hormones are involved using this process.

Thanks to the cutting-edge technology pioneered by CAUSES, this technique can now be used in densely populated areas where growing food is difficult. Aquaponics systems usually produce enough food to sustain a community. Indeed, the combined hoop house and aquaponics facility is expected to generate 500 pounds of fish and 5,000 pounds of produce without generating waste.

The project was made possible through a high efficiency aeration device invented by Tom Kakovitch, an Environmental Science Professor at UDC. Prof. Kakovitch's Flo-Vex™, injects oxygen from the atmosphere into the water without the use of high-pressure pumps. The method also removes heat, which is dangerous to fish life. The invention thus makes it possible to miniaturize the aquaponics technology so that it can fit into a small lot in an urban neighborhood and other densely populated and underserved areas. This simple, sustainable project exemplifies how with just a little ingenuity, urban development can be achieved using green technology.

"It's very exciting to see this amazing collaboration," stated Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. "USDA is not just about rural development, we are also heavily involved in urban communities. It takes partners such as UDC and community organizations to make projects like this happen."

The project is also well-aligned with the Sustainable DC Plan, a vision of Mayor Vincent Gray for D.C. to become the greenest, healthiest and most livable city in the country. Michael Kelley, Director of the District Department of Housing and Community Development, reminded attendees of the District's ambitious agenda. "As a member of the Mayor's Green Cabinet, we are charged with making sure that access to services is uniform and just on both sides of the river. It is safe to say this project is a gateway toward these efforts."

 In just a few short months, EDEN's garden has been growing a variety of fresh produce, including kale, squash, cherry tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, green beans and broccoli. UDC's Center for Diet, Nutrition and Health, and the Center for Urban Agriculture, both programs of CAUSES, have been teaching the community gardening and food safety techniques, as well as how to prepare the vegetables.

EDEN's chief gardening managers are known as the "Green Team," a group of local youth ranging in ages from five to 16. Teaching the youth of the community how to safely grow fish and vegetables is a key component to the idea behind Project EDEN. By creating a food sustainability system that economically empowers underserved children and families and promotes food security, lifelong skills are being taught that will be paid forward to a future generation.

For more information about CAUSES and its urban sustainability initiatives, visit www.udc.edu/causes.


About the University of the District of Columbia

An HBCU, urban land-grant, and the only public university in the nation's capital, The University of the District of Columbia is committed to a broad mission of education, research and community service.  Established by abolitionist Myrtilla Miner in 1851, the University of DC offers Associate's, Bachelor's and Master's Degrees and a host of workplace development services designed to create opportunities for student success.  The University is comprised of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences, College of Arts and SciencesSchool of Business and Public AdministrationSchool of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a Community College and the David A. Clarke School of Law. To learn more, visit www.udc.edu.

The University of the District of Columbia is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action institution. Minorities, women, veterans and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply. For a full version of the University's EO Policy Statement, please visit: http://www.udc.edu/equal_opportunity.

The University of the District of Columbia is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education - 3624 Market Street - Philadelphia, PA 19104 - 267.284.5000.