“Hope fills the holes of my frustrated heart” – Emanuel Cleaver, Congressman, Pastor and Community Activist

Hope.  It’s a four-letter word Dre Taylor and Nile Valley Aquaponics are giving to the community.  Nile Valley Aquaponics is on a mission to use aquaponics to produce 100,000 pounds of local fish and vegetables to help create healthier choices, food education, and economic stability in the urban core.  His complex at 29th and Wabash in Kansas City, MO is producing food to feed hearts, minds, and of course, stomachs.

WTF is Aquaponics

Aquaponics is growing plants in water fertilized by fish.  It’s also the holy grail of farming efficiency. A term coined in the 1970s, aquaponics has its roots in the ancient world.  Ancient Asian cultures grew rice in paddies teaming with fish and eels; Mayan and Aztec cultures built lake rafts that housed plants.

Modern aquaponics developed when new technology enabled fish farmers to recirculate water and house more fish in a smaller area.  Adding plants to the mix helped to reduce their dependence on land, water and other resources.

How Fish Poop Powers Hope

Aquaponics farms typically:

  • Use a 1/6th of the water to grow eight times more food per acre compared to traditional farming
  • Use an all-natural fish poop as fertilizer
  • Are efficient, sustainable and highly productive
  • Create produce free of pesticides and herbicides
  • Breed fish free of growth hormones and antibiotics
  • Allow for continuous production of food
  • Produce both a protein and vegetable crop
  • Eliminate soil-borne diseases because there’s no soil

Nile Valley is no exception to the above.  Three troughs six feet deep provide nutrients and water to 20,000 square feet of farmland housed in a 4,500 square foot facility.  Upping his farmable land by five times, Dre’s literally taking farming to the next level. It’s mind-blowing.

On an unassuming corner at 29th and Wabash, Nile Valley Aquaponics occupies five previously vacant lots.  Two were donated and three came to the organization from the Kansas City Land Bank, an organization that returns vacant properties to productive use, places them back on the tax rolls, and contributes to the improvement of the community.

Dre is determined to produce a high crop yield.  His current set up is not only awe-inspiring but also revolutionary.  The farming space is four levels highs. He has patents pending on this state-of-the-art system.  Most aquaponics farms are only three tiers high.

To help me understand how the system works, Dre casually pulled out a fishing net and scooped up more than 50 tilapia from one of his three troughs.  Not believing Dre when seconds earlier he told me 50-ish fish would come up in one scoop, I ate my words and stumble over myself at the magnitude of the operation.  Wiggling and squirming, these fish are part of a life cycle of good.  Their poop powers the entire process and supports more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables grown at Nile Valley.

Determined to make use of every aspect of the aquaponics farm, Dre plans to create a processing plant for the tilapia.  Typical fish processing facilities only use 40-50% of the fish while the rest goes to animal food manufacturers or waste.  Dre would like to use the remaining fish to create a fish emulsion that can be used as a natural fertilizer and thus eliminating waste and furthering the farming industry.

Goats, fish, plants, Dre, a small team, and volunteers keep production at Nile Valley Aquaponics going.  The goats are a less important part of the equation, but a part none the less.  Eight stroll the property and provide entertainment to the more than 2,000 volunteers that come through Nile Valley Aquaponics every year.

Dre Taylor and Hope

Quiet and steadfast are the two best words I can use to describe Dre Taylor.  His approach is methodical, based on research and founded in science.  From the fish food to the water to the environment, a lot of science supports Nile Valley Aquaponics.  Dre’s knowledge and hunger for education is inspiring.  His attitude is positive, almost peaceful and contagious.  In his presence, you feel confident that he’ll conquer his plan to improve food education and supply in urban cores.  He hopes to build a program that other urban centers can franchise.  The goal is to create aquaponics facilities across the country in cities with the most need.

Nile Valley Aquaponics is but one pillar in Dre’s efforts to improve the community.  Males to Men, a youth mentoring program, and KC Urban Farm Co-op round out how he’s working to improve his neighborhood and his community.  Each is intertwined and works toward advancing the lives of those involved and the lives of those in the Kansas City metro area.

To understand Dre’s ability to impact change, you have to look no further than KC Urban Farm Co-Op. It began with a simple Facebook Post – 10 Things to Do with a Vacant Lot.  Several impromptu meetings later and a few conversations with the City and the largest urban orchard in the country was born.

Bring Hope and Help

Dre’s impact can be seen in the youth who volunteer at his programs.  “Their success is my success,” according to Dre.  A philosophy we should all embrace.   To help further Dre’s mission volunteer. Nile Valley Aquaponics is open to public volunteers every Saturday 10 am – 4 pm.  Be sure to follow their story on Facebook to keep up with the countless ways food and farming are being used to make hope.