Create Food Security and a Sustainable Income

The Need

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.

Wings looked for solutions and initially turned to aquaponics. 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.

Over time, we learned to modify the aquaponic system so that staple crops such as corn as cassava can be grown in beds next to the water system (you see them to the right). Now, we don't use a traditional aquaponic system. Instead, it is a hybrid farming system combined with a herd of cows and a mango field that helps generate food and income. Crossover is able to enrich the soil enough to farm on a larger scale which helps the food needs. However, consistent food and income remain challenging.

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The Vision

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.

UPDATE: In 2020, the school is no longer using a full aquaponic system. Instead, the school has moved to more traditional farming methods that combines a smaller system of fertilizer. However, through management of resources and enriching the soil with fish feritlizers, Crossover is able to farm a significant amount of food. 

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The Actions

Fall 2013

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.

March 2014

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.

December 2014

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: Aquaponic system

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.

 

2016: Revised Aquaponic System and the addition of cows

In 2016, we realized that the aquaponic system needed to be more sturdy. A significant effort was put into place for a new cement aquaponic system. The system has tanks that are divided so that fish can be harvested at different times in the year. Additionally, with all the rain, the aquaponic system now also supplies water and fertilizer for a natural garden right next to the system. They use the fish fertilized water to help the soil with nutrients. We hope that Crossover will continue to produce enough food. We are beginning to realize that the energy needed and the effort to maintain the system presents challenges, so we are looking to modify. 

2017: Support from Tennis Serves Others bring in cows

By 2017, we realized that we needed to diversify the sources of food and income at Crossover. We applied for a won a grant from Tennis Serves Others. They helped us purchase 17 cows. The cows provide milk and dairy products as a source of food. Additionally, the cows multiply and can be sold. The sales help provide needed income. Crossover is close to full sustainability. Since 2017, the herd has consistently grown and it has functioned as we had hoped. By June of 2020, the heard was over 40 cows!

2018-2019: Modified Aquaponic/farming System and a mango farm

The aquaponic system has been modified into a productive farming system where corn and cassava can be grown. Through work with a local farming agency called ECHO, we began to look at more traditional farming methods that use enhanced soils. Both cassava and corn staple foods that are now being grown at Crossover. 

 

2020: Covid has made it difficult to sell cows as people in the region struggle to produce income. However, the combination of traditional farming, the mango fields, and through the management of the herd of cows, Crossover is mostly able to make ends meet. We are always looking for ways to improve the overall food and income needs.  

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