At first, Jedediah Foster had no idea what he was doing when it came to sustainable farming, but he felt a calling from God. The son of Pastor Tom and Lisa Foster of Liquid Church, Jedediah took on the challenge himself and began researching.
“We just felt God leading us in this direction," he said during Agriculture Day on Tuesday. "One day we were called and we started growing food. This idea came about almost two years ago. I knew nothing about farming. I didn't know how to have an aquarium two years ago. All the connections, knowledge and resources just came together."
The question beckoning him was how to help the hungry and poor by building a farming community, but he was still waiting for the answer.
Now, two years later after his calling, Liquid Farms exists.
Inside a windowless gymnasium at the church at 8631 US 27 S. is a complete ecosystem, including aquaculture and hydroponics systems. Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms, in this case tilapia. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.
The sustainable ecosystem is not very hi-tech; Jedediah built it all with his hands out of recycled materials, but it's highly effective. It uses a recycled water system to reduce waste and increase efficiency. It's also built vertically to make the most of any space.
The fish are stored in 55-gallon blue drums and the system is rigged with a water distribution and cleaning system. The water from the fish tanks is filtered and then recycled back into the system before being pumped up to the hydroponics.
Right now, the short -term goal is to provide food for the immediate community - the church. Then they hope to spread the word into the community.
Tom said this project has nothing to do with changing the farming culture, or starting a business. He said it's purely as a way for the community and congregation to learn about the benefits of healthy eating and providing that in a convenient fashion.
The long-terms goals are just as ambitious as the project itself.
The system uses 90 to 95 percent less water than traditional agriculture. Jedediah said this is especially important for use in developing nations where fresh water is scarce.
“We have long-term goals where we want to go to other nations, Third World countries, and places where fresh water is scarce, because a system like this might be the difference between growing fresh product and not. In many of those countries, fresh water is for drinking and not spraying on your fields. We believe we can feed the nations and the hungry. As a church, that's close to our heart. I know it may seem cliche but feeding the poor is important to us,” he said.
So far, the first batch of produce included basil and bib and romaine lettuce using fluorescent shop lights designed to be raised and lowered as needed. Soon, they will amp up produce production to try out new plants and see what works best.
Darlene Strack has been growing at Fellowship Missionary Church for the past three years. For her, gardening is a personal satisfaction and a time when you can commune with nature and meditate. When she visited Liquid Farms during Agriculture Day on Tuesday, she was highly impressed with what she saw.
“This is so far above anything I've seen in gardening. I am impressed that they didn't go out and buy equipment, but built everything themselves. They did all the research and building, and it's such an asset to the city. I really believe that there should be a lot of talk about this project in the community,” she said.
Jedediah said support from farmers, community members and the congregation has been outstanding, but now he's ready to get out there and follow his mission by sharing the fresh food.
“The reason that we have found so much support is because from any walk of life food is important. What we have here isn't a model of how to grow food, it's not a model for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, which provides a share of crops to members) or a farm, it's a model for community. What we are doing here is something that is creating a real community. We want to create a community that is dependent on itself and each other, not on outside sources. We are starting in our church, but as you can see we are making it into the community. That's what a church does, they play this role as a leader to feed the hungry and take care of the poor. It's a model for life not a model for growing food,” he said.