VISTA — Solving family homelessness through increasing self-sufficiency and aquaponics is no longer a fish tale for President and CEO of Solutions for Change, Chris Megison and CEO of Go Green Agriculture, Pierre Sleiman.
As pioneers in both their respective fields the announcement of expansion plans for the Solutions Farms comes with great relief and satisfaction after years of hard work engaging the community and winning over perceptive social purpose investors.
“Aquaponics has been around for a long time,” Sleiman said. “In recent times, the combination of technology systems with hydroponic greenhouse growing has made it possible to really magnify the synergy of growing plants and fish together.”
In short, aquaponics is the marriage of raising fish and growing plants without soil in one integrated system.
The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. The third participants are the microbes and the red worms that thrive in the growing media.
They do the job of converting the fish waste into food for the plants.
“Solutions Farms gives those in the deepest of poverty access to the healthiest food that they could consume,” Megison said. “Homeless people could rarely afford this premium food but our families will get the best of the best food. Also, the homeless themselves will run this state of the art farm.”
The expansion of the Solutions Farms like the aquaponics system itself will help increase their self-sufficiency ratio to permanently solve family homelessness. “Social enterprises like this farm pays about one-third of the cost per family annually,” Megison said. “What we hope to do is see that ratio rise to one-half that cost.”
With this expansion Solutions for Change will now be able to increase the number of their residents that can participate in their workforce training program so more parents of homeless families are getting jobs annually. Additionally, this new level of expansion will quadruple their production of certified organic food for distribution sales. Those dollars then get cycled back into the organization’s resources, reinforcing their resolute theme of self-sufficiency.
“Throughout our organization’s history, we have reinvented the playbooks on what solving homelessness looks like,” Megison said. “Now, with the Solutions Farms expansion, we’re continuing that tradition of innovation.”
Strengthened by the support of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s Innovation Initiative (i2) grant, Solutions for Change has undergone more than a year of planning and consulting with aquaponics experts and builders from around the world.
At the top of the list, local Encinitas business Go Green stood out as one of leaders that could help champion the expansion project to reality. Not hurting Go Green’s esteem was an endorsement from President Barack Obama as a “Champion of Change” in “The Future of Agriculture.”
“We are excited to come alongside such an innovative social organization like Solutions for Change,” Sleiman said. “Aquaponics is a rapidly evolving method of farming that we’ve been closely watching.
“The community support and investments obtained by Solutions show us that they are on the cutting edge of doing big things in the world of local sustainable farming. As trailblazers ourselves, we want to be part of growing the best food, while also having a positive impact on society through solving family homelessness.”
When completed early next year, the farm will provide organically certified greens each year to hospitals, companies, nonprofits and Vista Unified School District’s area schools, one of the farm’s main partners in its pilot phase.
“Our hope is that we can operationalize this model and teach other nonprofits how to grow great food,” Megison said. “Do good for others while funding their social missions.”