Providing a safe haven to the 250 saved-children of Crossover requires both basic shelter and food. Traditionally, school founder Dave Yayravi and his oldest pupils have taken to the lake to net tilapia, like fellow locals. This fish would then be fed directly to the student body or be sold at market to purchase grains and vegetables. Sometimes this sufficed; more often, they came up short and relied on sporadic charitable contributions; most often, they went hungry. Generating food supply for a K-8 boarding academy, in this fashion, simply isn’t viable.
Aquaponics is a system that combines aquaculture (the farming of fish) and hydroponics (farming plants without using soil). Their symbiotic relationship allows for plants to gain their nutrients from the fish, while the plants clean the water for the fish. The aquaponic system can produce food year round, even in difficult weather conditions.
From the beginning, Wings for Crossover has been singular in its vision: to build a new school for the Crossover International Academy. But systemic inadequacies in food production so crippled the Crossover community that food security needed to be addressed concurrently. Given its proximity to the lake, three options were considered: aquaculture (the farming of tilapia in a dedicated “plot” on the lake); hydroponics (the practice of growing plants in water, with the use of fertilizer); and aquaponics (a food production system that combines the two, through ponds).
The political instability and intimidation practices inherent in the Volta fishing industry took the aquaculture option off the table. And hydroponics would require the perpetual purchase of fertilizer, which costs money. The answer kept circling back to aquaponics. Before launching a plan, Jim Conti built an aquaponics system on a meager budget in his Huntington Beach backyard, and in short time he was harvesting both produce and fish.
So, Wings for Crossover set its second objective: to build an aquaponics system at the Crossover International Academy to create a safe and dependable food source and a sustainable income.
Fish are grown in tanks and nutrient-rich water from these tanks is pumped into hydroponic beds where vegetables and herbs absorb the nutrients for growth and purify the water, which is returned to the fish rearing tanks. We are using tilapia as the type of fish in the system and through its management, we hope to harvest an average of 100-200 tilapia a month in the beginning, more as we get more efficient. There is strong local demand and attractive prices for the selling of tilapia.
For $4,000, Wings for Crossover purchased an intact and functioning aquaponic system from the Ghanaian branch of Solve International, an agriculture research and development firm that creates market-driven solutions for urban centers.
Aquaponic farming is the process by which plants and fish propagate symbiotically in a water environment. Fish breed and mature in tanks. The water from these tanks is pumped into hydroponic beds where vegetables absorb the nutrients and, in turn, purify the water to return to the fish tanks. (This kind of system can produce food in the most difficult weather conditions and in bulk, ensuring excess to be sold at market.)
The system installed at Crossover contains 27,000 gallons of water, can accommodate up to 4,000 tilapia divided by age, and has a grow-bed capacity of 3,000 plants.
January – March 2014
Data from the ponds in Ghana was sent to the students at the Pegasus School for analysis. It was determined that lettuce and cabbage couldn’t mature fully but that tomatoes, French beans and peppers flourished, so they focused their farming.
Nine months into the growth cycle the first fish were harvested and salted. The ripe produce was collected and sold at the local market in Dzemeni for bulk rice.
The students of Crossover moved to the recently completed blocks of classrooms on the new campus. The aquaponics system remains in place on the rented land of the former campus. As soon as the system can be physically transferred to the new property, Crossover International Academy can cease paying any ground leases.
2015: Next Steps
The aquaponics system at Crossover has been so successful it has garnered the attention of the Ghanaian Ministry of Agriculture and local universities. Together, we are discussing options for collaboration and replication.
We realize that an aquaponic system may not be able to solve all the food and income issues at Crossover, but it will significantly assist in providing a sustainable future. Below is a link to a tour of the aquaponic system at Crossover. See the update section for reports on productivity,