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JCSU students create sustainable garden

Johnson C. Smith University has started a Sustainability Village that includes raised garden beds, greenhouses, composting and aquaponics. The system is designed to simultaneously raise fish and grow vegetables on water.

The village is sustainable because it doesn’t degrade the land or surrounding environment.

Waste from campus is turned into compost, which is used to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers in the raised beds.

The aquaponics system uses the fish feces to fertilize the plants that grow on a water table next to the fish tanks. The nitrates created by the plants and emitted into the water are then funneled into the fish tanks, keeping the water clean.

JCSU President Ron Carter envisioned the village two years ago, but he doesn’t like to take the credit.

“I’ll admit, it’s one of my favorite projects,” he said. “It really demonstrates our commitment to educating students who will be social entrepreneurs in the world. It’s higher education at its best.”

Carter said this project, like all the research projects at the university, is done to make a positive impact in the community.

“Everything we do at Johnson C Smith, when it comes to research, is to impact the northwest corridor,” he said. “The neighborhood is our home and the people are our relatives. We have a responsibility to create and maintain assets in our corridor.”

All of the food created in the village will go to the people of the northwest corridor. Carter said its one of his personal goals to help feed the community, in part because the community is helping maintain the raised garden beds.

“The area we live in is classified as a food desert,” he said. “We are going to provide fresh produce and fish for the people, and they’re helping us do it. I hope one day, the village can be four times this size.”

The team that’s been working on the village, from planting the first seed to maintaining and harvesting the gardens, is made up of 40 students. They recently traveled to St. Louis to the Clinton Global Initiative University to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative and present their project.

Carter he said he was impressed by the students’ involvement.

“We didn’t push them to go, but instead, they pushed us to go,” he said. “It just shows how competitive we are and what can happen when you get young people excited about this kind of initiative.”

Christolphe Fatton attended the initiative with three members of the team. He got to see President Bill Clinton. He said the experience taught him a lot, but mostly humility.

“I saw how famous President Clinton was, but he was still so humble,” he said. “It meant a lot to me to see such an accomplished man be so kind and honest.”

Fatton, who is originally from Haiti, is majoring in biology and plans to become a doctor. He wants to take what he’s learned at the village and bring it back to his home to teach to the people, particularly aquaponics.

“This is something I take a lot of pride in as a Haitian and I want to teach my people this technology,” he said. “It can be taught to anyone and would provide food security, clean water, and a secure job for people in Haiti. It’s really going to help take care of the future generations.”

Fatton said he thinks everyone should understand the idea of sustainability and he wants to teach it to Haitians.

“Here at the Sustainability Village, we are providing for today without compromising the needs of tomorrow,” he said. “If we can all understand this, our future generations will be safer.”

Philip Otienoburu is a biology professor at the university and is the faculty leader for the village. He said even though he was in Italy during the Clinton Global Initiative, he said he called the students from Europe to see how everything went.

“Of course I called,” he said. “It’s a big deal. They met with different groups from diverse backgrounds all with ideas on how to improve the world, and got to exchange their ideas with each other.”

Otienoburu said even though the garden is grown and the aquaponics are set up, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“We have to get the community to adopt these practices, which will take some effort,” he said. “We have to get the students engaged at home and in their communities. This is not game over. This is just the beginning of it.”

Milicevic: 704-358-6043; Twitter: @jessymilicevic
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