By Alyse Horn
The Northview Heights Family Center underwent renovations in August 2013, but there is still more to come.
The family center will be home an aquaponics studio administered by the Door Campaign.
Created by Quincy Kofi Swatson, a Manchester native, aquaponics combines aquatic fish farming and hydroponics. Hydroponics is when plants grow in mineral nutrient water without soil.
Swatson said the idea is to have a tank filled with farm raised fish and then to have the plants growing above the water, which will create a circle of life. The fish will be fed and then the fish waste will be consumed by the plants. Swatson said fish waste is the perfect nutrient supplement for the plants.
“The bottom layer [of the aquaponics system] will be the fish tank, and water will be cycled into the top shelf of plants,” Swatson said. “The plants will absorb the [waste] and clean the water and it will be cycled back down to the fish.”
Swatson said his campaign is working with a biotechnological team from Allegheny College to build a curriculum that will use the aquaponics system as an educational model.
The plants to be grown using the aquaponics system will be produce, which in turn will be sold to local food establishments and donated to the families who use the food bank at Northview Heights Family Center.
Swatson also said that the fish will be sold to local restaurants, and the fish will most likely be tilapia. Bistro To Go, 415 E. Ohio St. has already signed up to be the first restaurant to use the fish.
The aquaponics system is the first door that will open for the campaign. Swatson said the initiative behind this and all future endeavors is to engage children with innovative ideas.
“We want to open a door for things they never thought existed and expose them to something new,” Swatson said.
Swatson said all of the people involved in the Door Campaign are in their early 20’s, and they see an accountability to give back to the younger community and help them grow.
“We see a need for [the Door Campaign] so we’re going to make it happen,” Swatson said.
Andre Jones, Jehosha A. Wright and DaVaugh Copeland are all co-founders of the Door Campaign.
Jones is a director at Perry High School’s after-school programming. Swatson said Jones has been teaching classes on aquaponics to students, and to some teacher’s surprise, the kids are interested.
Jones said he runs the bio-tech team at the school, which is an elective and afterschool activity and where he teaches students about the aquaponics system. The team will be testing the water regularly in the fish tanks.
Jones said Swatson reached out to him about the project a few times before Jones agreed to join the Door Campaign. Jones said he initially turned down the project because he has so much work already, but “one day I woke up thinking about it and felt that God was telling me to give [Swatson] a call.”
Jones said he wasn’t familiar with aquaponics at first, but that is what intrigued him.
“I started learning [about aquaponics] every day and did independent research,” Jones said. “I’m now at a point where I feel comfortable with what I know to teach about it, and I’m also learning more with the kids.”
Wright said that Swatson came up with the idea for the aquaponics system and the Door Campaign years ago during a discussion they were having. According to Wright, the pair tends to have lively conversations.
“We’re like a debate show, whether someone is around or not,” Wright said.
One day, Wright and Swatson were having an intellectual debate in the car about international and local issues, and Swatson decided there needed to be a positive force of nature on the Northside.
“Years later [Swatson] came back to me and said he was going to [start the Door campaign] and he wanted to help a lot of people,” Wright said.
Wright has been involved distantly because of school, but told Swatson he would help him every step of the way.
“We have been watching each other’s back for a long time,” Wright said.
Wright said while growing up, he and Swatson felt that there were things missing that were essential to their lives that possibly could have disrupted their development. That feeling is what planted the idea for the Door Campaign.
“We felt that we could supplement the feeling for a younger generation with intelligence and mentorship and turn it into the development to become a better generation,” Wright said.
Wright said the reason Northview Heights Family Center was chosen as the location for the aquaponics system is to improve the quality of life for younger generations in that area, so they will be able to “walk down the street and be a part of something bigger and intellect friendly.”
“We all had the potential to fall into [misguided] roles,” Swatson said. “We really see what’s needed and how to fill that void.”
Along with focusing on improving life for Northside youth, the Door Campaign is using the aquaponics system to show how easy it is to be environmentally friendly. Wright said promoting “going green” at an early age will help shape the future of the world in a positive way.
Copeland said the aquaponics system will incorporate solar panels in the grow house, but that is just one of the many steps to be completed before the project is complete. The blueprints are in place, but everything must be custom built.
The money financing the Door Campaign comes from different donations and fundraisers that are held throughout the community. Most recently, there was event at the Mattress Factory on Thursday, December 12, 2013 called “unLOCKing Doors.”
Swatson had been growing his dreadlocks for three years, and at this event he allowed attendees to cut a lock off of his head, one by one.
“He’s a great guy and he is really working to do things,” Wright said about Swatson. “He’s writing his own story right now.”
All of the proceeds from the event, and from the fish and produce sales from the aquaponics system, will go towards opening more doors in the Northside.
Swatson said the Door Campaign is aiming to have the project completed by August 2014, but admits that is an ambitious goal.
Anyone who wishes to donate money, volunteer or find out more information on the Door Campaign, please visit http://doorcampaign.org.