PITTSFIELD — Berkshire inmates will soon learn how to grow fresh vegetables toward a fresh start for re-entry into the community and workplace.
The Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction has added a $500,000 aquaponics greenhouse that will help teach high-risk, high-need inmates the math, engineering, technology and science of growing lettuce, basil and other leafy greens, according to Capt. Robert "Robin" McGraw, a deputy sheriff with the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
Aquaponics combines the raising of fish — in this case tilapia — and growing plants, with the fish feces used to fertilize the plants in deep water beds.
McGraw, who manages the operation, said the greenhouse is another crucial part of the educational programs in place for decades at the countywide lockup.
"If we're not successful with this, [the inmates] are back on the streets doing drugs and getting in other trouble," he said.
The greenhouse has been operational since January, already producing 6,000 heads of lettuce, which McGraw and several corrections officers have harvested and initially distributed to local food pantries and charities.
"We've had nothing but compliments about the quality and freshness of the lettuce," he said.
The inmates aren't involved yet as they are confined to the house of correction because of the coronavirus pandemic. The greenhouse is located outside the perimeter fence on house of correction property.
Once the 60- by 72-foot greenhouse is certified to provide food to the jail and house of correction, McGraw says the majority of the produce and fish harvested will feed the inmates, with 15 percent going to the needy in the county.
McGraw began developing the greenhouse project five years ago with fundraising through the Berkshire Education and Corrections Service. The nonprofit arm of the house of correction was set up to establish and manage successful programs for inmates. He said several local foundations and business leaders contributed money and in-kind services to the greenhouse project.
He plans to add raised garden beds outside the greenhouse, growing a variety of vegetables. He also wants the public to visit on weekends to learn about aquaponics farming and how the greenhouse program benefits the inmates.
"The sky is the limit on what we can grow here," he said.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Fresh, healthy produce grown by students attending Myers Park and Garinger High Schools was donated to a local cause looking to address food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bulb, a non-profit that has been working to provide local produce to food-insecure neighborhoods, is launching a pre-bagged food pickup starting on Wednesday.
India Solomon, Interim Executive Director of The Bulb Global Markets, says food insecurity is, many times, underlined and compounded during trying times such as the coronavirus outbreak.
“Food insecurity can be based on a lot of different barriers,” said Solomon. “Whether that’s financial, transportation, or just disability.”
The food is being stored at the Catawba Brewing Company located in Charlotte. The owners of the company have opened their doors to store the food in their abundant freezers and fridges, in light of having to remain closed for safety purposes.
Solomon says the introduction of healthy, nutritious foods couldn’t come at a more important time as people work to focus on staying healthy and keeping their immune systems strong.
“Fresh produce gives us energy and boosts our immune system with a variety of different antioxidants and vitamins,” said Solomon. “So it’s definitely important for our mental health, our self-care because we need to fuel our bodies to be able to handle the kids at home, to be able to handle the stressful work situations we’re in.”
Solomon also said the organization received fresh vegetables from Trader Joes. The Bulb was originally going to kick off their pop-up markets on Wednesday, but changed course to pre-bagged groceries in light of social distancing guidelines outlined in Governor Cooper’s executive order for North Carolina.
The first event will be held at the Salvation Army in Belmont beginning at 3:30 p.m. and they have another scheduled at the Catawba Brewing Co. on Thursday, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Pittsfield — The Berkshire Education and Correction Services aquaponics training facility at the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and House of Correction was getting ready to harvest its very first crop of lettuce when the county was crippled by the COVID-19 crisis.
What do you do with nearly 1,700 heads of lettuce in the middle of a health pandemic? You donate them.
Thanks to the efforts of Robin McGraw, deputy sheriff and president of Berkshire Education and Correction Services, Mark Lefenfeld of Berkshire Bounty, Brenda Petell of Berkshire United Way and BUW volunteer Nina Garlington, all of the lettuce was distributed among various organizations throughout Berkshire County over the course of several days.
It took three years of designing, building and finally planting the first seeds to yield the first crop. “When I finally held this lettuce in my hand, I said ‘I did it.’ And what really made me smile was that we were able to give it all to those that truly needed it and quickly,” said McGraw, a deputy with the sheriff’s office for six years.
“This was an unbelievable contribution in response to an immediate need in our community for food. Berkshire United Way was honored to work with Robin and Mark to make sure every last head of lettuce was distributed to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the county. Ensuring children and families have access to healthy, local food is more critical than ever during this public health crisis,” said Candace Winkler, BUW CEO and president.
The plan right now is to continue to distribute lettuce to “those who truly need healthy food,” said McGraw.
According to McGraw, four years ago on a plane, Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction Superintendent John Quinn struck up a conversation with a teacher who started an aquaponics program at a juvenile detention facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. Quinn asked McGraw to facilitate a similar program, so, working collaboratively with 100 Gardens, the organization that oversees several aquaponics programs, he made it happen.
He worked with the nonprofit arm of the sheriff’s office to raise money and secure in-kind donations to get the facility built. This aquaponics facility is the first one to be built at a correctional facility in all of New England, drawing interest from several sheriffs throughout the state.
There are 300-350 tilapia, each swimming in four grow tanks, and the fish waste provides nutrients that help the lettuce grow. The facility has over 4,000 heads of lettuce floating in a bed, but since seeds are planted in intervals — it takes 45 days from seed to head — the lettuce is at different phases of growth.
McGraw added that the growing facility will be another educational component for the inmates, especially for the high-risk or high-need. The aquaponics facility will allow inmates to be outside, to learn new skills, and to focus on their work ethic and self-esteem. “Knowing you’re feeding someone else is also a cathartic thing,” he said. Inmates will commit to no less than a six-month STEM-focused curriculum run by corrections officers and fellow inmates.
There are still protocols to be put in place and this crisis to get past before the curriculum rolls out, but McGraw sees great potential with this program. “The sky’s the limit,” he said. He credits Sheriff Thomas Bowler and colleagues, his friends and intern Marco Anastasio for their support and collaboration in completing this project.
The facility produces lettuce 24/7, 365 days a year and is completely sustainable and off-the-grid. “Nothing will be wasted,” said McGraw. Beyond this immediate crisis, the plan is to use a portion of the lettuce to feed the inmates and the rest will help those in need.
Inmates are often looking for a second or third chance at getting their lives back on track and “this program is the best way to do that,” said McGraw. “It will bring us directly in contact with the community and the community will get to know what’s going on in here.”
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- A non-profit in Charlotte-area schools is bringing classroom lessons to life, while also helping others.
100 Gardens is a non-profit that teaches kids aquaponics, which is a method of farming that raises fish and vegetables together in one place.
Sam Fleming created 100 Gardens and says the goal is to make learning STEM classes fun for students.
"I barely graduated high school, I was very un-engaged in both math and science, because it wasn't real," Fleming says. "When you don't apply it, it doesn't stick. So what aquaponics does is allow for us to immerse ourselves in science, because we have an end product, which is we're going to grow food, we're going to address sustainability."
The program is in nine schools in the Charlotte area, including Pine Lake Preparatory in Mooresville.
Matthew Taboda, a senior at Pine Lake Prep, started the aquaponics club at his school. He says the club is showing students of all ages that the things they learn in the classroom have an impact on their life.
"We eat so much food on a daily basis, but it never really occurs to us how we actually get that food, and how it actually comes onto our dinner table," Taboda says. "So being able to expose students to how things are truly grown, and how things in the world are really produced is really a great, eye-opening experience."
At Pine Lake Prep, students are growing lettuce which is given to students and teachers.
Other schools sell the lettuce to local restaurants.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wilson was with students, teachers and Principle Anthony Calloway of Walter G. Byers School in Charlotte where he was learning more about their aquaponics science experiment.
The students explained to Wilson how the aquaponics system works using nitrates produced by the fish in their fish tank to grow plants to provide food. The kids even gave us a look at how they transfer fish to the fish tank to provide the nitrates needed for growing the food.
Kerrie Lalli, K-8 STEM Lab teacher, talked with Wilson about the excitement of teaching science and engineering to the kids and seeing how their creativity comes alive as they learn.
Sam Fleming’s passion is clear when you meet him. Everything from sporting his non-profit’s T-shirt to the animated arm gestures when he speaks about the aquaponics process shows that teaching and building is what he truly loves. Aquaponics is a closed-loop cycle where fish in tanks produce all the necessary chemicals that plants need. The plants use the chemicals in the water and in return send clean water back to the fish. The two are connected, making water loss low and waste almost nonexistent. Thanks to Fleming’s work over the past eight years, his ambitions are finally coming to fruition with community events like the 2nd Annual Homegrown Tomato Festival.
Fleming is one of the co-founders of 100 Gardens, a non-profit organization created with the intention to send 100 aquaponic farms overseas to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Working side by side with founder and mentor, Ron Morgan, Fleming set out to install gardens in schools to provide a more hands-on learning experience for kids in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) system. The two built a prototype in Morgan’s backyard and the neighborhood kids loved it; they wanted to learn more about how this kind of growing works.
Sam Fleming, co-founder of 100 Gardens. Photo: Sydney Hennighausen
“Most kids graduate with pre-calc or calculus but have no idea how to change a tire, and there’s something fundamentally wrong about that,” said Fleming. He’s a product of the CMS school system and recounts not knowing how to write a check until he was 23. He strongly believes that kids need to learn real-life skills before graduation, and Fleming thinks aquaponics is a way to do that.
100 Gardens planted eight of their 12 aquaponics farms into schools around Charlotte and have worked with teachers to integrate the learning of aquaponics into science lesson plans. They’re now beginning to incorporate this into the classroom for engineering, marketing, and entrepreneurship classes. Fleming says they hope the students will even create brands for the vegetables and sell their crops by the Fall of 2019. At Myers Park High School, kindergarten through fifth grade classes and high school Earth and Environmental Science classes are currently utilizing this newly adapted vocational system. Building interdisciplinary experiences that has kids walking away with knowledge that’s applicable to real life is very important to Fleming. “It’s not about just the test, it’s about understanding what they’re learning,” he said.
Photo: Sydney Hennighausen
The goal is now to have 100 aquaponic gardens in Charlotte. If 200 students per school participate that means 20,000 kids a year, and that’s 20,000 kids who better understand our future environmental issues. These will be students who know how to handle technology and practices that don’t damage the Earth, while providing necessary food and produce. In ten years, that’ll be an estimated 200,000 students impacting the future of sustainable gardening. Fleming firmly believes that this could transform a whole generation and Charlotte could become one of the most innovative agricultural education cities. He expresses how important this initiative is not only to him, but for our future, “this project isn’t a feel good project; this project is literally a strategy for the people of tomorrow.”
On July 28 at NoDa Brewing Company, the second annual Homegrown Tomato Festival is taking place thanks to these CMS students and their gardens. Last year at Midwood Country Club, attendance was expected to be 300, but it was nearly tripled. Support is growing for the cause, and plus, who doesn’t like a fresh tomato? Going in with higher expectations, Fleming is hoping 2,000 people will join them for their annual fundraiser. This year you can expect tough competition for the best tomato, delicious sandwiches, local bands, including the Hashbrown Belly Boys and School of Rock Charlotte, along with plenty of food vendors. Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett will tell the “History of the Tomato,” and different generations’ usage of it. You can also expect Dalton Espaillat from Sabor and Dan “The Pig Man” to be serving up collaborative tomato-themed dishes to compliment Tom’s talk. The festival’s proceeds help 100 Gardens and their agricultural aquaponics teaching in local schools and in Haiti. As you walk around the festival, you’re encouraged to try each local tomato growers’ produce and, if they win your vote, support them by leaving a donation in their jar. At the end of the day, the person with the most money is named “The 2018 #1 Backyard Tomato Grower” and gets a trophy, while the cash donations go back to 100 Gardens.
Homegrown Tomato Festival 2017
Fleming and Morgan have worked hard to help create a better curriculum and future for the students at local high schools through the science of aquaponics farming. All of their combined efforts and devotion for almost a decade are beginning to pay off, and thanks to the Homegrown Tomato Fest, you get to see a glimpse of the dedication and love they have committed to this project.
There are a lot of good things budding at Webb Street School in Gastonia. Lately, the lettuce is chief among them.
Over the past year, Charlotte-based nonprofit 100 Gardens has been helping the special needs school operate an aquaponics facility, allowing students there to farm fish, grow lettuce and harvest it for local restaurants. It’s a combination of aquaculture — farmed seafood — and hydroponics — growing plants without soil — in a sustainable loop.
On Saturday, the nonprofit and the school showed off all their hard work.
The facility at Webb Street has four tanks of tilapia and two long rows of plant beds that keep lettuce floating — and growing — above water. It’s tranquil, though hot, inside the greenhouse, but it provides work that can help students focus on repetitive tasks that could translate into employment.
“It’s therapeutic, and our goal for our kids is for them to have job skills when they graduate,” Principal Kelli Howe said.
There are about 150 students at the school, which serves both juveniles and adults up to age 22 with developmental disabilities.
The aquaponics facility started with a $30,000 grant from the Glenn Foundation, and 100 Gardens got it up and running. The school is able to harvest 60-75 pounds of lettuce each week.
“We sell at the farmers market if our harvest is big enough,” Howe said.
The lettuce is also sold to Pour House in downtown Gastonia and the Holy Angels-run Cherubs Cafe in Belmont.
Additionally, the facility serves as something of a lab for science students at local high schools.
“They can monitor our pH,” Howe said. “They can monitor if we need to add calcium.”
The tilapia are still growing, and state regulations prevent fish from being sold by the facility. The team can, however, host a fish fry as a fundraiser — something that’s in the works.
The whole system runs off of one water pump: The water is recycled through plant beds, helping the lettuce grow.
“The plants are actually using up the nutrients and the waste created by the fish, returning clean water back to the fish after they start growing,” 100 Gardens President Sam Fleming said. “Now we can farm the fish and we can recycle 100 percent of the water. It’s good for the environment and we’re growing a ton of new vegetables.”
Webb Street is the only school in Gaston County doing aquaponics.
“When they come in here, they’re learning how to be productive members of society, and they’re doing it with this cool new technology,” Fleming said. “This is about getting people skills, it’s about trades and it’s also about saving the planet.”
There are 12 aquaponics gardens run by the nonprofit in the state, and the organization wants to grow that to 100 — hence the name.
“In just 10 years time, that 100 gardens can influence 200,000 kids and save millions of gallons of water and all of the food it’s producing. So it’s almost a social engineering project in some ways. We’re trying to transform a whole generation of youth.”
100 Gardens provides exciting learning experiences in STEM, nutrition, and environmental studies by implementing aquaponics gardens in schools. As a result, students change the way they think about learning, food and one another becoming smarter, healthier, and more compassionate people. This is a necessary step to ensure the sustainability of the human species and the planet.
Forging connections between education, food, and the environment through aquaponics
PO Box 221831 Charlotte, NC 28222
Sam Fleming Executive Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Preparing Our Children For The Future & Saving Our Environment For Them