Waco, Texas — A local food pantry has just signed a deal with Texas State Technical College to create a 5.8 acre aquaponics farm in Waco to help combat hunger.
Shepherd's Heart is the largest food pantry in Waco and a 22 county area. Just last year, the food pantry served nearly 40,000 families with more than 1.3 million pounds of food.
"We deliver to 400 seniors that are homebound. We have a drive through here on Thursday evenings that runs from 3 o'clock to 5 o'clock for people who are not able to stand in the line. And we also have a walk-in," said Robert Gager, Executive Director of Shepherd's Heart of Waco.
The organization relies on community donations and profit from their resale shop, Things from the Heart, to help meet the hunger demand in the community. shepherds heart even started an empowerment group to help those living in poverty.
"We're trying to take these people from where they are and work them up out of poverty. What we're doing now is we're creating entrepreneurs," said Gager.
But, all of these resources aren't enough, especially during the summer when children are out of school and also needing food. So, Shepherd's Heart is now working with TSTC to build an aquaponics farm to grow and provide healthy food to the community.
"The idea of the aquaponics is that you get some benefits out of it. Number one, you use 20% of the water that you use to grow conventionally. In addition you can get 10-15 harvests a year out of that," said Gager.
The harvests produced by the aquaponics farm will go toward feeding those in need. And, harvests will be sold to generate money as well.
"Every time we plant something, it's going to be something like a 45 to 60 or maybe even a little bit longer time before we receive harvest out of that product. We're going to start out by selling it so we can put it back into reinvesting it into the farm and keep building it and building it and building it," said Gager.
Work on the aquaponics farm is set to begin in the coming weeks. The first planting is anticipated to happen in September. Gager hopes to have the first harvest by the end of the year.