NORTH FORSYTH -- A Forsyth County nonprofit is taking a unique approach to meet food needs in the area.
Fill Ministries – formerly known as Meals by Grace, a program it still runs as an outreach branch – recently purchased six acres of land on Bennett Road in north Forsyth for new services, the first of which is an aquaponics farm, a method of farming using fish to help grow plants that is growing in popularity.
“God gave my husband, Steve, this vision for aquaponics,” Executive Director Suellen Daniels said. “Aquaponics is this really cool method of farming where it’s all in a green house, you grow fish and the water from the fish has the perfect nutrients in it that treats the produce and the fruits and vegetables.
“The plant roots filter the water for the fish, so it’s a closed-loop system.
Daniels said the group currently offers many of the same foods as other nonprofits – canned goods, dry goods and frozen meat – but “there’s nothing fresh. There’s nothing to give our families health, nutritious food.
“One acre of aquaponics will produce well over, I think it is, 250,000 pounds of produce.”
Only about an acre will be used for the aquaponics system – the plan is to make it small enough that it can be easily replicated – and the remaining land will eventually be used for food processing and job training.
The extra food not given to those in need will be sold to help with expenses and may also go to food deserts – urban areas where it is difficult to find fresh food – in west Atlanta.
Daniels said the program will also provide jobs for those who are in need in the county or are facing mental disorders, including PTSD, autism and Downs Syndrome.
The hope is those learning the aquaponics system can get involved with a federal initiative to bring the practice to traditional farms.
“There’s a USDA initiative in the Southeast to get farmers that are doing traditional farming to introduce aquaponics to their farming techniques, not necessarily close down the farm producing peanuts, and going to aquaponics,” Bennett said. “We’re working with some of the people involved in that initiative to design our training programs so as we teach our families work skills and job skills, they’ll become experts in the aquaponics field.”
The first crop of the year is expected in May, and the farm will produce about six crops per year. Eventually, the aquaponics will become self-sustaining.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, Fill Ministries will hold a groundbreaking at the property at 6395 Bennett Road.
Daniels said the group, which many still call Meals by Grace, decided to change their name after adding two new programs – the Resource Lab, a life skills training program, and the Job Sight, which teaches job skills.
The name was chosen because they want to fill needs in the community.
“We’ve been in existence six years. Most of the community probably knows us as Meals by Grace,” Daniels said. “It started as this little program in my house … well, we discovered as we fed people that other needs came to the surface; they needed just basic life skills and they needed job skills.”