NORTH FORSYTH — A Forsyth County nonprofit is taking a unique approach to meet food needs in the area.
Fill Ministries — formerly known as Meals by Grace, a program it still runs as an outreach branch — recently purchased six acres of land on Bennett Road in North Forsyth for new services. The first will be an aquaponics farm, a method of farming using fish to help grow plants that is growing in popularity.
“God gave my husband, Steve, this vision for aquaponics,” Executive Director Suellen Daniels said. “Aquaponics is this really cool method of farming where it’s all in a green house. You grow fish and the water from the fish has the perfect nutrients in it that treats the produce and the fruits and vegetables.
“The plant roots filter the water for the fish, so it’s a closed-loop system.”
Daniels said the group offers many of the same foods as other nonprofits such as canned goods, dry goods and frozen meat.
But “there’s nothing fresh,” she said. “There’s nothing to give our families health, nutritious food.”
The aquaponics farms will change that.
“One acre of aquaponics will produce well over, I think it is, 250,000 pounds of produce,” Daniels said.
Only about an acre will be used for the aquaponics system. The plan is to make it small enough to be easily replicated. The remaining land will eventually be used for food processing and job training.
Extra food will be sold to help with expenses and may go to food deserts, which are urban areas where it is difficult to find fresh food such as in west Atlanta.
Daniels said the program also will provide jobs for those who are in need in the county or facing mental disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, autism and Down syndrome.
The hope is those learning about aquaponics can get involved with a federal initiative to bring the practice to traditional farms.
“There’s a USDA initiative in the Southeast to get farmers that are doing traditional farming to introduce aquaponics to their farming techniques, not necessarily close down the farm producing peanuts, and going to aquaponics,” Daniels said. “We’re working with some of the people involved in that initiative to design our training programs. So as we teach our families work skills and job skills, they’ll become experts in the aquaponics field.”
The first crop of the year is expected in May, and the farm will produce about six crops per year. Eventually, the aquaponics farm will become self-sustaining.
Today, Fill Ministries will hold a groundbreaking at the property at 6395 Bennett Road.
Daniels said the group, which many still call Meals by Grace, decided to change its name after adding two new programs: the Resource Lab, a life skills training program, and the Job Sight, which teaches job skills.
The name was chosen because the group worked to fill needs in the community.
“We’ve been in existence six years. Most of the community probably knows us as Meals by Grace,” Daniels said. “It started as this little program in my house ... well, we discovered as we fed people that other needs came to the surface; they needed just basic life skills and they needed job skills.”