Clifford Chin unlocks the greenhouse and stands back.
The sound of gurgling water and the scent of fresh produce slip past. Vegetables – several varieties of lettuce, cabbage and basil – grow on either side of a large water tank. Inside that tank, fish swim and wriggle.
Meet Mr. Chin: an engineer, seminary graduate and, currently, high school Bible teacher at Covenant Day School. He oversees the greenhouse, and while it may not seem to have anything to do with his Bible class, it’s actually part of something bigger.
This Green Fish is a program he started that’s using aquaponics technology to help feed the hungry in Haiti.
“We’ve been going to Haiti since 2007,” said Chin, “and the ministry we work with has established a school, an orphanage, a medical clinic and a church. We wanted to work on a project that would help them from a sustainability perspective – something that would last. Something that would change their lives.”
After researching some project ideas, aquaponics jumped out as the most beneficial option. It fills the practical need for food, and it’s educational.
Haitians “have very few opportunities to work with their hands and with labs,” said Chin. “So this technology can be applied in the educational arena to help them with their abilities to analyze and problem-solve.”
So Chin and his students went to work on a 50-gallon tank filled with 50 tilapia, surrounded by two beds of vegetables. The process is simple: The fish-tank water flows into the beds. Gravel in the beds filters the water, and as the beds fill, a device called an auto-siphon drains them periodically. The fish waste provides nutrients for the vegetables.
“It’s like growing plants on steroids,” said Chin, 57, who lives in Monroe with his wife and two children. “The vegetables grow three to four times faster than what you put in the ground. You can actually eat here on Friday and come back on Monday and see the difference in size.”
Eventually, the water in the beds drains to a sub-tank, and one small submersible pump moves the water back into the main fish tank. Thanks to the veggies, the fish receive oxygen.
It’s a closed-loop system; nothing is wasted.
More than 35 students have pitched in – from marketing to researching, engineering, designing and translating an aquaponics manual into French.
Chin asks students what they like doing or what they’re good at, then finds a way for them to help. He wants them to realize that there are many ways they can use their talents to serve others, even without going to Haiti.
“Mr. Chin’s tireless work with This Green Fish has inspired me to try to leave a lasting impact on those whose lives I can touch,” said junior Matthew McKnight, who’s helped with marketing.
Because of his work on This Green Fish and his mentorship, Chin was chosen as an ING Unsung Hero and awarded $2,000 to make the greenhouse a reality. Roughly 1,300 people applied for the grant; only 100 were accepted.
“It was really exciting to receive that award, because we had heard that receiving the grant was very, very difficult,” said Chin. “But it wasn’t all me. I’ve had tremendous support from the faculty and administration here.”
His students will be the first to tell you how much of a difference Chin is making.
“Mr. Chin is not only an exceptional Bible teacher but he’s also an incredibly humble and determined leader,” said senior James Dillon, who’s helped coordinate student involvement. “He loves the Lord and he loves Haiti, and this love pushes him to do great things.”
When Covenant Day takes a trip to Haiti next spring, Chin hopes they can take their simple prototype and make it large enough to feed at least 25 people. Then he hopes they can kick-start aquaponics classes at the orphanage’s secondary school and the university.
“If we can model it, we’d love to share (this project) with other schools here, too,” said Chin. “It really gets communities and parents involved, and I think that’s been lost.
“This project isn’t anything new; it’s just bringing something back that’s been left behind.”
Deanna Morono is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Deanna? Email her at email@example.com.
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