Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Solving Greensboro's Hunger Crisis With Food And Jobs

Today the News & Record publishes an article about a little green book and efforts to end food insecurity in Greensboro. Food pantries and free meals are great-- I commend those who work so hard to help the needy. But reality is: these things are not a solution to the hunger problem in Greensboro and never will be. It's long past time we started working on a sustainable solution.

Imagine... turning off of Burlington Road in East Greensboro, the Bessemer Community, where the old rock walls and stately white oak trees from the 1940s or before still decorate the front of what we now call, Bessemer Aquaponics-- the first accredited Aquaponics school in the nation-- now stands.

You park in the parking lot taking a minute to read a historical marker there telling you the history of the site, once a county old folks home then the recreation facility for the soldiers stationed at the Overseas Replacement Depot. You learn it later became the first racially integrated hospital in North Carolina when the North Carolina Convalescent Hospital was built there during the Polio Epidemic of the late 1940s and 1950s. And later, again an old folks home until being torn down over 40 years ago and abandoned for over 4 decades while grass and trees covered everything there including the asphalt parking lot.

You read how it was once home to the 7th and 8th graders from Bessemer High School back in the 1960s when the Bessemer Community was so strong the school system was unable to keep up and how during those very same years part of the building was used for a county jail.

Science based works of art made entirely by local artists adorn the grounds and gardens everywhere you look with both fixed and ever changing pieces on display.

Walking inside you see the free visitor center where freshwater fish are swimming on display in big tanks and the locals are buying fresh, organic, aquaponic grown produce and fresh fish. You see videos and vivid explanations about what goes on there. You see books and study guides for children and adults.

A group of 5th graders walk past to their activity bus waiting in the parking lot half way through a field trip that includes a visit to the Siquarium across town-- a distance made much easier to travel because of the recent completion of the new Greensboro Urban Loop, aka I-840. Having learned about hundreds of different freshwater fish and Aquaponics they make their way to gaze at the rarely seen saltwater varieties in the aquarium there.

Another group, farmers and businessmen, drink coffee, discuss the markets and debate the success of the newest aquaponic farm to open nearby. How could we have gone from an importer of foods to a major exporter so quickly, you think. Then you're reminded of how Greensboro had long invested in infrastructure and logistics that were just begging for products to haul away. This was the regional solution the politicans has sought for years, right in front of your eyes.

Next door at the Guilford County Agricultural Extension Service, people line up to view the demonstration garden. The Ag Service had to hire full time tour guides but it's not a problem because the cost is covered by a grant from Bessemer Aquaponics that also helps to fund Agricultural Extension county wide.

You know you are in a special place.

Behind the visitor center are the offices, classrooms and rows of greenhouses where fish and plants are raised and farmers, be they lifelong farmers or new to the trade, study to become experts in the most advanced forms of agriculture in the history of the world-- able after a few short weeks in class, to grow food anywhere it's needed.

You overhear people talking about how much better Greensboro and North Carolina's economy has become since Bessemer Aquaponics was founded, with all the new businesses starting up and people working again. People are working day and night exporting Greensboro's fish, fruit, vegetables and the aquaponics equipment built by small and large manufactures located nearby, to places all around the world. And the profits from Bessemer Aquaponics go not into someone's pocket but towards funding other needed programs throughout Greensboro and Guilford County.

And you ask yourself, "Why did it take us so long?"

If you can imagine our vision then please share this story with everyone you know and attend our next meeting.

You've got to admit, it's a far sight better than traveling all over the city searching for food from a Little Green Book that will be outdated before many get their hands on a copy.