KANSAS CITY, Mon. (AP) – It doesn’t take long to realize that Bill Coe has a passion for what he does in the East High School greenhouse. Coe is the director and CEO of the Green Acres Urban Farm and Research Project, which is surrounded by some of Kansas City’s most deprived neighborhoods.
Fast food is more common here than salad bars. But Coe does his part to raise children and expose them to farming while organically growing fresh produce and proteins. Then he gives the food to families who need it, KCUR-FM Reports.
“They really teach outside of the textbooks and they really take the science and the applications of science and put it in motion,” Coe said on a recent tour of the building. “That’s why I love our project.”
He does all of this as food insecurity across the country and Kansas City has worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for households with black, Latin American, and immigrant families, many of whom are sending their children to East High.
When the Center for Household and Political Priorities examined the latest census data, they found that more than 20% of black and Latin American adults reported not having enough to eat, compared with 9% of white Americans.
“A lot of people have no idea that this is actually going on,” Elsa Mecado said of Green Acres.
Macedo is the 4-H / Snack Program Coordinator at the University of Missouri Extension in Platte County and an East High School graduate.
“I knew this school, I knew they had a farming program, so I thought, ‘I should try to go there even though it’s not in my county,'” she said. “Students … talk to you more and get a little more excited when they see someone who looks like them.”
Macedo says she also has the opportunity to learn more about aquaculture – the cultivation technique that distinguishes Coe’s nonprofit organization.
Go to the greenhouse
Coe’s greenhouse is divided into two sides: the dirt side and the aquaponics side.
On the dirty side, vegetables, herbs and native plants grow in black plastic pots and bowls that are spread out on gray tables – like in a typical greenhouse or garden center. There is also a large tub of dark compost filled with tiny worms.
“When we’re done with the plant, we’ll try to recycle the soil,” Coe said. “The worm can eat and process and excrete all of the biodegradable material in the soil … really, really, really good, earthy, organic.”
The main attraction, however, is the aquaponics.
“Aquaponics is the science of using … fish waste, or fish droppings, to provide fertilizer to plants. So we have a balance, ”said Coe.
In this room there are seven large tubs – five light blue ones with tilapia or goldfish and two with prawns – on wooden stools. They are about chest high and have nets draped over them. A network of plastic pipes and hoses is enthroned above everything.
First, the solids are filtered out of the old fish water. The water is then pumped into two large growth beds – approximately 20 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Dozens of sheets of biodegradable styrofoam with a perforated grid float on the approximately one meter deep water, like precise Swiss cheese. The greens are planted in the holes with their roots dangling in the water, soaking up the fish’s natural manure.
After another pass through the filters, the water will return to the tilapia.
Carol Coe’s legacy
Bill Coe says it is one of the largest systems in Kansas City, and it wouldn’t be here without the work of his late mother, Carol Coe.
She was a civil rights activist, attorney, East Side attorney, and former Jackson County and Kansas City legislature who passed away last month. She was 74 years old.
At a 2009 conference in Colorado, she was struck by an aquaponic system on display.
“Mom really just kind of met her – she just met her and she kind of met her,” Coe said. “She was just looking ahead and saying … we need to find an area in the city where we can use this system.”
What she envisioned at the time was a chance to raise children and expose them to agriculture, grow healthy food in a food desert, and make everything sustainable.
When she returned to Kansas City, she turned her attention to the abandoned East High greenhouse, and the seed grew from there.
But to really curb food insecurity in the region, Green Acres would have to get much bigger. Analysis by Johns Hopkins University suggests that typical urban farms are not wiping out large food deserts like this one.
Coe plans to expand with a research biopark that could grow 1.2 million pounds of leafy vegetables and 60,000 pounds of fish annually.
It’s the kind of operation that could help this community through a food crisis like no other, while creating some new green jobs at the same time. It takes Coe $ 5 million to break new ground, which he hopes he will do this year.
Currently, students like 4-H club member Selina Chun are getting at least an introduction to agriculture – even if she has no plans for a career.
“It was so much fun,” said Chun, who is a senior. “I would do this all day in my spare time, every day if I could.”
When the vegetables were grown, the farm donated them to needy families in East High School. Chun says that was her favorite part.
“Just wrap the food and then put a little Green Acre sticker on it and make sure we wrapped it with love,” she said.