Kansas Metropolis’s Inexperienced Acres Fish Farm brings hope and wholesome meals to households in want | KCUR 89.3
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 in educating children and introducing them to farming while organically growing fresh produce and proteins. Then he gives the food away to families who need it.
“They really teach outside of the textbooks and they really take the science and the applications of science in and set it in motion,” Coe said recently on a 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 black, Latin American, and immigrant households, many of whom are sending their children to East High.
When the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examined the latest census data, it found that more than 20% of black and Latin American adults reported they didn’t have enough to eat, compared with 9% of white Americans.
Luke X. Martin
Green Acres was founded by Carol Coe in a then-abandoned East High School greenhouse in Kansas City.
“A lot of people have no idea that this is actually happening here,” Elsa Mecado said of Green Acres.
Macedo is the coordinator of the 4-hour snack program at the University of Missouri Extension in Platte County and an East High School graduate.
“I knew this school, I knew it had an agriculture program, so I thought, ‘I should try to go there even if it’s not in my district,'” she said. “The students … talk to you more and are a little more happy when they see someone who looks like them.”
Macedo also said she had the opportunity to learn more about aquaculture – the cultivation technique that distinguishes Coe’s nonprofit.
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, 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 soil.”
1 of 4th
– Tilapia is jumping, so Coe is holding a net over their tanks. Here he is preparing a health check for one of the fish.
2 of 4th
– In the beds, leafy vegetables float on the surface of the water. The roots absorb natural fertilizers from the backwater of the fish.
3 of 4th
– Coe uses a biodegradable foam-like medium to keep the root system of his plants intact. The plant is then placed in a floating net pot so that the leaves absorb the light and the roots have access to the water.
4th of 4th
– In an aquaponics system, Coe uses shrimp to further filter the water after it leaves a plant bed and before it returns to a tilapia aquarium.
But the main attraction is the aquaponics side.
“Aquaponics is the science of using … fish waste, or fish droppings, to provide fertilizer to the plants. So we have a balance, ”said Coe.
In this room there are seven large tubs – five light blue ones filled with tilapia or goldfish and two with shrimp – on wooden stools. They are about chest high and covered with nets. 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 beds – about 20 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Dozens of sheets of biodegradable Styrofoam with a grid of holes like precise Swiss cheese float on the approximately one meter deep water. 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 returns to the tilapia.
Carol Coe’s legacy
Bill Coe says it’s one of the largest systems in Kansas City and it wouldn’t be here without the work of his late mother, Carol Coe.
Courtesy Bill Coe
Green Acres founder Carol Coe fought tirelessly for the interests of the eastern neighborhood of Kansas City. She died in February at the age of 74.
She was a civil rights activist, attorney, East Side attorney, and former Jackson County and Kansas City MP who died last month. She was 74.
At a 2009 conference in Colorado, she was surprised by an aquaponics system on display.
“Mom really kind of got it – it just hit her and she kind of hit it,” Coe said. “She just thought forward and said … we have to find an area in the city where we can place this system.”
What she envisioned at the time was a chance to raise children and expose them to farming, growing healthy food in a food wasteland, and doing all of this sustainably.
When she returned to Kansas City, she turned her attention to the abandoned East High greenhouse, and the seeds grew from there.
But in order to really dampen the food insecurity of the region, Green Acres would have to scale – a lot. Analysis from Johns Hopkins University suggests that typical urban farms will not wipe out large food deserts like this one.
Coe plans to add 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 like no other could help this community through a food crisis while creating some new green jobs at the same time. It takes Coe $ 5 million to lay the foundation for what he wants to achieve this year.
Courtesy Bill Coe
Coe said it would take him $ 5 million to lay the foundation stone for a bio park with a public market and cafe, greenhouses, beehives, wetlands, and a rooftop terrace.
For the time being, students like 4-H club member Selina Chun at least get an introduction to agriculture – even if she doesn’t want to do it professionally.
“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.