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TCC Center for Innovation helps small businesses rebound

By: Channing Frampton

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Despite the challenges of the pandemic, small companies in the Big Bend are thriving thanks to new partnerships designed to help veteran-owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in our community.

“Building a business is really hard,” explained Michele Madison. She is founder and CEO of Farming the Future. Madison planted the seed for that company in 2016. They develop science programs for K through 12 schools.

“Instead of kids just reading out of a textbook,” Madison explained, “they get to do hands-on, fun agricultural learning.”

That idea was cut short by the pandemic. To keep growing, Madison took her business online. “We had to very quickly speed up our progress on that,” she added.

While technology presents its own set of challenges, Madison said when asking for help, “being a woman, I’m overlooked constantly. I’m not taken seriously.”

Enter Scott Balog with the Tallahassee Community College Center for Innovation.

“We’re developing novel partnerships that can attract and bring in more resources to support veteran-owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in our community,” Balog said.

Those partnerships include Thaddeus Hammond. He is an Economic Development Specialist with the Small Business Administration. “We’re just happy we can help, and we’re always here to assist when needed,” Hammond told ABC 27.

In addition, Synapse, a nonprofit serving Florida’s vast and talented innovation community, is working to connect Big Bend business with the rest of the state.

“Our objective is to make it much easier to connect across geography and empower innovators to find what they need and share what they have,” shared Lauren Prager, Vice President of Community Engagement with Synapse.

Together, TCC, SBA and Synapse are working to help people like Madison find help.

“The biggest hurdle we’ve seen since the pandemic began is access to capital,” Hammond added.

Despite the challenges, Prager said, “the pandemic has created opportunities for all of us to re-imagine and innovate.”

Madison said she’s grateful for the support. “Being able to have the support and the people around you to help you makes such a big difference.”

Using the new partnerships, she’s able to take this science and put it online so even more kids can learn and rebound for years to come.

The SBA has paycheck protection loans available for businesses through March 31st. Synapse just wrapped up a major online conference connecting businesses from Tallahassee and beyond.

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TCC honors Businesses at Second Annual Blue and Gold Business Society Awards Ceremony

Tallahassee Community College honored nine business leaders and their businesses that have provided support to the advancement and continued excellence of the college at the second annual Blue and Gold Business Society Luncheon Awards ceremony.

“Congratulations to all of our Blue and Gold Society award winners,” said Heather Mitchell, Executive Director of the TCC Foundation. “We are deeply grateful that you all choose to support TCC.”

The honorees were presented one of three categories of awards:

President’s Talon Award

The President’s Talon Award is presented to a business or organization that has provided outstanding support to TCC, its students and/or faculty over the last year with emphasis in a specific area.

  • ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
  • Farming the Future
  • Second Harvest of the Big Bend
  • Social Catering

Golden Eagle Award

The Golden Eagle Award is presented to a business or organization that demonstrates outstanding commitment to TCC through volunteer work, student engagement and financial support.

  • Full Press Apparel
  • Tropic Supply

Nobilis Aquilae Award

The Nobilis Aquilae is the highest honor TCC can bestow on a business or organization in our community.  Also known as the Noble Eagle Award, this award recognizes long-term mission focused support to the College through partnership, collaboration and resource support.

  • Bicycle House
  • First Commerce Credit Union
  • Uptown Cafe
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Farming on Mars: One Trailblazer’s passion for aquaponics

Samantha Cavasin | Special to the Democrat

Michele Madison is the founder of a socially-minded business aiming to spread adoption of sustainable farming practices has found her place in the field of aquaponics. Special To The Democrat

Michele Madison is at the forefront of an aquaponic science revolution that is breaking barriers for women and girls in STEM.

The founder of a socially-minded business aiming to spread adoption of sustainable farming practices has found her place in the field of aquaponics. The business, Farming the Future, creates an interactive STEM education for Title I schools and juvenile detention facilities through aquaponics-based revolutionary farming.

Madison is one of the 2020 Trailblazers to be honored by The Oasis Center for Women & Girls at an awards luncheon on Friday, Feb. 28.

“I am not afraid to speak out for those less fortunate and even make people uncomfortable,” Madison said. “I know that some things need to be said and [saying them] might help someone else.”

More:From banned to brilliance: Book-loving trailblazer Cherry Alexander finds a way

More:Luncheon honors 2020 Oasis Center Trailblazers

As a child in South Florida, Madison scratched and clawed to finish her education and support her family. Madison says that her circumstances were not perfect, growing up with her single mom and sister. They often struggled to find places to stay.

Her mom would encourage her to, “go to college and get an education, so you don’t have to live like this.”

As a child, Madison’s dream was to go to college, graduate, and have a job with a cubicle and a push pin wall with pictures of family. To her, that was the sign of success for a “real adult.”

Unfortunately, her dreams of cubicles were interrupted when her mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. At 14, Madison became the primary caretaker for her family of three, working after school to support her family.

As soon as she was able, Madison sold everything she owned and moved to Tallahassee. In her early twenties, she began waiting tables while attending TCC as a biology major with an interest in alternative fuels and biofuels. Her new dream was to own an eco-friendly gas station that offered a variety of fuel sources and also doubled as a marketplace for fresh produce.

Then she discovered aquaponics.

She now gets to travel, teach, and explore the world through a scientist’s eyes. In 2019, Madison traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, as the only American to receive the prestigious Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Award for young adults under 30 who serve as advocates and role models for social justice, peace, and human rights.

Knowing she achieves amazing feats in a field dominated by men has pushed Madison to work harder and produce better work. She strives to empower young women and girls to challenge which careers society has determined are not fit for women.

“There should be no boundaries for young girls to find their passion and pursue a career that interests them, even if that career is typically held by men,” Madison said.

Madison will be recognized for her many accomplishments, her drive and her spirit, as an honoree at the 2020 Trailblazer Luncheon, hosted by The Oasis Center for Women & Girls, and sponsored by Comcast NBC-Universal and the Brennan-Hendon Family. Tickets for the Feb. 28 event are available at

Madison loves a challenge, and often finds ways of taking impossible projects and imagining solutions. She is continuously looking to the future and her next big idea.

She aims high. Extremely high.

“One day I will be in space,” said Madison. “Somebody has to farm on Mars.”


Ready to find more information on how to have your own aquaponics garden? Learn more at our website.

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Michele Madison honored with 2019 Muhammad Ali Courage award

Kirby Adams | Courier Journal

Award-winning actor and longtime Parkinson’s disease advocate Michael J. Fox will be honored with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Courage at the annual Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards in Louisville this month.

Fox, best known for his roles in “Back to the Future” and “Family Ties,” founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and was a longtime friend of Ali. Debi Brooks, co-founder of the foundation, will accept the award on Fox’s behalf at the event.

The awards, an annual fundraiser for the Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. Sixth St., aim to “harness the power of Ali’s legacy by recognizing individuals who are driven by a call to action to effect positive change in the world and to encourage young people worldwide to have the courage to become actively involved in social justice issues,” according to a news release announcing the event.

In addition to Fox, the following “seasoned” awardees will be honored:

  • Michael Lang, producer & co-creator of 1969 Woodstock Festival, will receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • Mark Tewksbury, Olympic Gold Medalist from Canada (swimming) and advocate for justice, fair play, and equal rights, will receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Gender Equality
  • Amy Hehre, CEO and founder of OVI Children’s Hospital in Kenya, will receive the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Global Citizenship
  • Dr. Mark Lynn, owner and operator of 90 Visionworks, president of Dr. Mark Lynn & Associates and philanthropist  will receive the Muhammad Ali Kentucky Humanitarian Award

Negin Farsad, writer, director, actor, and social justice comedian will be the host of the 2019 awards at the Louisville Marriott Downtown, 280 W. Jefferson St.

You may like:It’s going to be a wild ride: Farmers’ Almanac predicts a ‘Polar Coaster’ this winter

“Each of this year’s awardees are amazing and purpose-driven individuals who inspire us with their remarkable accomplishments, abilities, and courage to affect lasting change,” Donald Lassere, president and CEO of the Ali Center, said in the news release.

In addition to the “seasoned” awardees, six people 30 years and under will be honored with an award for each of Muhammad Ali’s Six Core Principles: Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality.

Here are the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award 2019 Core Principle winners:

  • Waad Al-Kateab, 28, from Syria, is receiving the Conviction Award for her courageous documentation from inside Aleppo which drew international attention to the horrors of the Syrian city under siege. Her film, entitled “For Sama,” her daughter’s name, is now an award-winning documentary.
  • Shadrack Frimpong, 27, from Ghana, is receiving the Dedication Awardfor establishing Cocoa360, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to facilitate access to education and improve health care through cocoa farming revenue. In less than three years, the organization has cared for 3,000 patients and currently educates 120 young girls.
  • Jared Hiakita, 30, from New Zealand, is receiving the Spirituality Awardfor his work in bettering the environment by delivering waste minimization education and training to the indigenous people of Aotearoa, New Zealand. He also co-founded Project Whare Paku, which helps people of the Far North reestablish a sense of ownership of their sovereign land by building tiny houses.
  • Majd Almashharawi, 25, from Gaza, is receiving the Confidence Awardfor solving a persistent local challenge of helping to reconstruct buildings destroyed by war in an area where many construction materials don’t make it over the border. She invented a new process for making a strong, low-cost brick from ashes. Majd also created a model for a new women-led business.
  • Laura Ulloa, 29, from Colombia, is receiving the Respect Award for helping former guerrillas in her country get reintegrated into society. Laura was kidnapped and held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia when she was 11 years old. Two years later, her school bus was hijacked and Laura was taken as the sole hostage. Laura works with many agencies, organizations, and projects that are changing lives.
  • Michele Madison, 24, from the United States, is receiving the Giving Award for founding “Farming The Future” in Tallahassee, Florida. The organization provides quality food with an interactive STEM learning experience for community members and schools through aquaponics-based production and 21st-century farming. Her organization also contracts through the Florida government to build greenhouses and aquaponics systems at juvenile detention facilities.

Want to find out more about Farming the Future? Look at our website today for more information about STEM education for K through 12.

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Special to the Chronicle

Women of Distinction were honored at Awards Gala by Girl Scouts on Nov. 8, Special to the Chronicle

On the night of Nov. 8, the Girl Scouts of the Florida Panhandle held it’s Women of Distinction Awards Gala and honored all nominees on stage with eight being recognized as honorees in specific categories at the Florida State Alumni Center.

“It has been an honor to meet these extraordinary women and recognize them as the distinguished women that they are,” said Raslean M. Allen, Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle, Inc. chief executive officer. “The recipients are women who have demonstrated their commitment through leadership and community service; they signify courage, confidence, and character, while making the world a better place, and exemplify the Girl Scout mission.” she continued.

Nell Cunningham, a retired educator from Gadsden County, received the Lifetime Achievement, Diamond Award, which is presented to a woman whose contributions to the community embody the vision of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts.  Which Nell has constantly done, from her bringing medical and dental services to Havana, to all her years of volunteering for Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

The Pearl Award was presented to Barbara Goldstein, one of the founders of the Holocaust Education Program and is bestowed upon an adult who at one point in their live has been a Girl Scout for her significant contributions to the Girl Scout movement in support of building girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.

The award is given in memory of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, with the significance of the pearl symbolizing the devotion by Low to the success of the start of Girl Scouting which included selling a strand of pearls to fund the early operations of Girl Scouts. Barbara has developed meaningful programs with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and is dedicated to continue education of the Holocaust and the dangers of intolerance.

Joining Nell Cunningham, and Barbara Goldstein as Women of Distinction Honorees include:

• Audrey Diana Lewis, Gadsden County School District, Retired: Education
• Marcia Warfel, Volunteer Florida: Social Services
• Robin Haslet Thompson, Kelly Tucker: Law
• Kelly Tucker, Evergreen Solutions: Youth Services
• Cecka Green: Formally with LendingAge Florida: Community
• Sha’Ron James, Florida Department of Financial Services: Government/Elected Official

A program inspired by Girl Scouts nationally and hosted locally by the Girl Scouts of the Florida Panhandle, the Women of Distinction awards honor women who truly demonstrate their commitment to the community. The women selected join the over 150 women in the Florida Panhandle who have been honored as Women of Distinction since the program’s inception in 1998.

The Women of Distinction is a primary fundraiser for the Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle, with the devastation of Hurricane Michael, it is more important than ever to create a since of normalcy for our Girl Scouts, we can do this by keeping Girl Scouts active even during this difficult time. All proceeds made at this event goes towards all of our Girl Scouting needs for over 3,000 Girl Scouts across the Florida Panhandle, including programs, trainings and camps.

The dinner and awards program was hosted by Julie Montanaro, award-winning journalist who anchors WCTV’s Eyewitness News. Included in the program was a presentation by Ashley Campbell, this year’s Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle’s Young Woman of Distinction.

Ready to find out more about Michele Madison’s Farming the Future? Click here for more information.

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Godby High School Utilizes Farming the Future for Aquaponic Education
It’s a joy to me to see a lot of these kids just go out there and start putting things together and learning how to solve a problem all by themselves and once they learn that they can solve problems just by their own brainpower and there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.
I had applied for a grant for Envision and it gave me an opportunity to build an aquaponics program and it was just a fabulous opportunity for us to buy the thing we really need because a lot of these technologies just require funds.
I saw aquaponics as an opportunity because this was sort of a urban survival technique where people can grow food they can grow fish to eat.
Also it’s a problem-solving. Anything, a lot of the things, that really helped the students was making sure that they saw a problem and then figured out by themselves how to solve it.
That’s the cool thing about it was I never would have thought I’ve been actually working with aquaponics or do anything water or fish
like that. I’m the type of person where I want to be hands-on Dean and actually with other funders you’re able to use your hands and be able to see what you think what’s the best way of sizing the
There’s so many of these kids. They don’t have the same opportunities because they just don’t have the resources sometimes and envision by giving them the resources to do things that other schools can do that gives them the same opportunity and an abilityto excel in an area they maybe never excel in it.
Thank you for investing in my students!


Want to learn more about fundraising for your own aquaponic garden? Click on this link for more information about how we can help you.

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30 Under 30 | Michele Madison leads Farming the Future through Championing Environmental Education

Michele Madison

Roles at NAAEE: 30 Under 30

Tallahassee, FL, United States

Age: 24

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m the founder of Farming The Future, a local business that designs and builds greenhouses and aquaponics systems in schools (including local elementary) and high schools), juvenile detention centers, low income/food desert communities, private backyards, and commercial-scale farms. We raise tilapia and catfish in ponds, pump that water into finely calculated bioreactors, grow vegetables out of the bioreactors, and then send that water back to the fish. We also pair these with external terrestrial gardens to add more growing space. We use these as a tool for STEM, agricultural, and vocational training. All the food grown goes to the school cafeteria, and the leftovers go to women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and other charitable organizations. Over the years, I have also developed a hands-on STEM curriculum aligned with Florida state standards, so after we design and build the systems, we then return to the schools weekly to teach our STEM program.

Finally, we provide a service for homes that we call “foodscaping”. By installing low maintenance and environmentally-friendly foodscape kits in backyards, we provide people with the opportunity to save money at the grocery store, an enriching and educational environment for their children, and healthy nutrient-dense food.

I also serve as an environmental technician for Phoenix Environmental Group, a staff scientist for HSW Engineering, and am pursuing a degree in Chemical Engineering. Coming from a low-income background, my mother would tell me, “Michele, you have to go to school. You have to get an education so you never have to live like me. You have to go to college.” In school, I was bullied, put down, and told I would never amount to anything. Despite the bullies, I was determined to continue my education and empower others.

I overcame many challenges growing up, from serving as my mother’s caretaker and working to pay the bills after her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, to enrolling in a hospital homebound program to take classes over the phone due to my severe Crohn’s Disease. Nonetheless, I graduated! I never knew I could be a scientist or engineer. But here I am. I want to give those kids whose schools can’t even afford a beaker, a chance to find their own way out.

What inspired you to become a champion for the environment and environmental education?

I was interested in alternative fuels and, specifically, algal production for biofuels. While researching these, I met a Master’s student who was funded by the Department of Defense to conduct research growing algae in waste water for biofuels. They had an aquaponics system in their yard and showed it to me. The next day, I quit my job, changed my major to engineering, and started sleeping in a greenhouse.

I studied microbiology, chemistry, and systems design, and started building with whatever I could find on the street. I knew these systems were more important than anything else I could do to help the environment and people. Living in Florida, I see firsthand the impacts of big agriculture on the environment. Aquaponics is a closed loop recirculating system, using one tenth of the water that traditional farming uses, and doesn’t require petrol byproducts for fertilizer. It can grow vegetables and protein anywhere, regardless of whether the land is arable. It is an innovative yet ancient technique.

I wanted so badly to go to college, but without financial assistance I decided that if no one would give me the opportunity, then I would make the opportunity myself. By studying, researching, and building these systems, I hoped to prove myself enough to earn a scholarship to go to school. Now, I am employed by two engineering firms and run a business that is actually contracted through the college I once strived to attend.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders that are looking to bring about positive change in their communities through EE?

The advice I would give is simple: it’s going to be hard and it’s going to be frustrating, but whatever you do, don’t stop.

People, especially in low-income neighborhoods, aren’t ignorant to environmental issues by choice. The lack of environmental education paired with the intense pressure of consumerism in these communities is a tragedy.

Education is everything. People don’t know what they don’t know. They will fight you in the beginning, maybe not listening and thinking it’s not cool, but if you care and keep trying then they will hear you. You will change their lives, and the environment, one student at a time.

What pro-environmental behavior do you think would make a big impact if everyone in the world started doing it?

Stop eating meat—the largest drain on our precious resources and one of the largest environmental pollutants. Animal feed and the waste from slaughter and processing all end up in a dump, creating a big environmental issue. Commercial and agricultural water use can make up to 99% of our fresh water resources, compared to the 1% used residentially. For example, one almond requires 50 gallons of water. Let’s start with meat, though. We do not need it. There are many plant- or insect-based protein sources. I myself breed and eat mealworms, and teach my students how to breed them as well!

If you could be any animal or plant, what would you be and why?

The list of animals I would be ecstatic to live as is quite long, ranging from Orcas, one of the fastest evolving species, to Nitrospira, the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that is a critical part of the nitrogen cycle. However, I would have to go with Daphnia.

Daphnia is a small aquatic crustacean, commonly called a water flea, which play a crucial role in our modern, everyday lives. Daphnia are great bioindicators for water quality since their reaction to water toxicity is similar to ours. They are commonly used in municipal water quality labs, and they have quite the personality. Normally kept in small aquariums, you can often find them lining up to ride the bubbles from the tank’s aerator! Although they have a short life span, they are crucial for both their natural environment as well as modern day water quality compliance, and I would be honored to be a part of that!


Want to find out more about environmental education? Check out our website for more information.

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The Awesome Foundation & Farming the Future

Sourced from The Awesome Foundation


Farming The Future pairs engineering expertise and leadership in system design to bring food, entrepreneurship, and community to Tallahassee. Farming The Future is a women owned, award-winning Progressive Business. We are a greenhouse distributor. Inside of those greenhouses we design and build aquaponic systems. Aquaponic systems consist of two parts: fish and plants. We raise tilapia and catfish in ponds, we pump that water into finely calculated bioreactors, we grow vegetables out of the bioreactors, and then we send that water back to the fish. We then pair that with an external terrestrial garden where we can add more growing space. We use our systems as a tool to teach STEM, Agricultural, and Career Education. All the food grown goes to the cafeteria, and whatever is left over goes to local shelters, A Second Harvest Food Banks, and other community organizations fighting food deserts and food insecurity. We build our systems in Juvenile Detention Centers, Title I Schools, Commercial Institutions, Low Income/Food Desert Communities, Private Backyards for Individuals, and Commercial Scale Farms. Over the years of building these in educational facilities, our director Michele Madison has written and developed a hands-on STEM curriculum that meets Florida State Standards. FTF provides people the opportunity to save money at the grocery store, provide an enriching environment for children, and healthy, nutrient dense food by installing low maintenance fruit tree kits in Tallahassee backyards! Our ultimate goal when combining aquaponics, foodscaping, and education is to bring all of this back to where it belongs: the people and especially the future. When kids have access to fresh, nutritionally dense food, they are able to stay healthy and spend more days growing. We want to make this future a reality for Tallahassee as we continue to develop into a leading city in the state of Florida and nationwide. We’re not farming the past, we’re farming the future.

Ready to get started on your Aquaponics Garden? Click here to look at our variety of projects.

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Garden to Cafeteria | Making STEM Tasty at the Success Academy

Sourced from WFSU TV Public Media

by Rob Diaz De Villegas | November 24, 2016

In today’s video, we look at a school garden that feeds and educates students. We also look at different community efforts looking to bring nutritious food to Tallahassee residents living in food deserts.  

Today on the menu at the Success Academy: black eyed peas. It’s not a main dish, but possibly the most interesting.  It’s the first time the cafeteria is serving food grown in the Success Academy garden.

WFSU Producer Rob Diaz de Villegas interviews Dr. Flossie Byrd, author of “Echoes of a Quieter Time”.

Watching the students pick the pea pods in the heat of a late summer afternoon, I can’t help but think about a video I produced earlier this year, a part of our Roaming the Red Hills series.  In it, Dr. Flossie Byrd recalls her 1940s upbringing in Monticello, Florida.  Many of her schoolmates worked on their family’s farms.  Some of their produce ended up in the classroom, where the teacher and students cooked it for lunch.

In her book, Echoes of a Quieter Time, Dr. Byrd (Education Psychology PhD. from Cornell) lists the many successes of her fellow students.  The education they received in the segregated South seems both old school and ahead of its time.  Her teachers didn’t know that they were practicing such modern concepts as “STEM education” and sustainable “Farm to Table” eating.

Success Academy teacher Sean Willett, however, is fully aware of these concepts.  Leon County Public Schools’ Success Academy is a second chance school.  To catch up on credits, students spend a lot of time at desks, at computers.  The faculty thought students needed more outdoor time, and yet they don’t have a lot of time to spare.

“We had to include something that included getting their hands out and dirty, and working,” Mr. Willett says, “but [where] they were also learning.”

Students shuck black eyed peas grown in the Success Academy garden. The peas were then taken to the cafeteria, where they were cooked and served to students.

Aquaponics | STEM Garden Tool

Cucumber growing in an aquaponics system. Photo provided by Farming the Future, Inc.

Not that students are always getting their hands dirty in the Success Academy garden.

Michele Madison stands by a bed of rocks attached to what looks like a small plastic Koi pond. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a better cucumber than a cucumber out of an aquaponics system.”

Michele runs a nonprofit called Farming the Future.  They build aquaponics systems in schools located in Leon County.  In aquaponics, plants grow directly in a bed of rocks.

The fish in that plastic tub create what I guess you could call “fish manure.”  That in turn creates nutrient rich water.  That water floods the rock bed, coating the rocks with nitrogen.

A bell siphon regulates the amount of water in the bed.  When the water reaches a certain level, the siphon creates a vacuum that drains the bed.  Now the roots receive oxygen.  When the bed is empty, air bubbles rise up through the pipes and suck the water back up, bringing water back to the roots.

Photo provided by Farming the Future, Inc.

The plants consume the nutrients in the water, cleaning it for the fish.  It is, as Michele says in the video, a symbiotic relationship.

Aquaponics uses the same biological processes that make plants grow in soil, and uses engineering to make it happen.  It’s a multifaceted teaching tool.  And it makes nutritious food.

Michele sounds like a person who has found her dream job.  “It brings people together,” she says, “and it gets people excited about growing their own food… This is the future.”

The Availability of Healthy Food

When Michele references the future, she is partly talking about using design and engineering to sustainably feed people.  But there is also the idea that communities can take control of their food needs.

“In this school, a lot of students live in food deserts,” Michele says.  “And they don’t have access to good, nutritional food.”

Below is a map of food deserts in Tallahassee, created using the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Access Research Atlas:

The USDA defines a food desert as a “low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”  A low income tract is one in which 20% of the population is below federal poverty levels.  If 33% of people in the tract are more than a mile from a  grocery store, that’s considered low access (10 miles in rural areas).

In other words, these are places where people might have trouble affording fresh fruits and vegetables.  And, they have to travel further to seek out this healthier food.

“Maybe you should cut back on the prices of how healthy food, how much it costs.” Says Success Academy student Maleek Cole.  “Junk food ain’t really that much, so it’s like, get something quick and simple.”

A number of nonprofits are, however, working to get healthy food to more people in Tallahassee.

Community Garden Efforts & More

Below is a list of programs that look to bring healthy, affordable food to areas of concern.

Frenchtown Farmers Market

Every Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm, local growers sell “a wide variety of fresh, local, naturally grown produce, honey, eggs, baked goods, gourmet preserves and smoked meat.”  On the USDA map, Frenchtown is not considered a food desert.  But, it is a low income Census tract.  It’s the only farmer’s market in the area to accept SNAP Benefits (formerly food stamps).  In fact, at the Frenchtown Market, every SNAP dollar is worth double its value.

iGrow – Whatever You Like

Empowering young people is the at the heart of the iGrow mission.  It is a working farm run by teens, and it has two locations:  The original Frenchtown farm and one more recently opened in South City.

They sell produce at both locations on Mondays and Fridays.  Whatever they don’t sell, They donate to charities like Second Harvest.  They also sell products like the iGrow Bucket, raised beds, and compost to encourage urban gardening, and offer workshops.

They’ve been fairly successful since their inception in 2011, selling their produce on Red Hills Online Market and to local restaurants such as the Miccosukee Root Cellar, Kool Beanz, Sweet Pea Cafe, and Cypress.

Community Gardens in Tallahassee

iGrow is an initiative of the Tallahassee Food Network.  The TFN also partners with the City of Tallahassee to facilitate the creation of community gardens.

You can search for a parcel of city owned land in your neighborhood, and put in an application.  The city will even install a water meter on the parcel.

There are, of course, rules governing community gardens.  And it is a commitment.  But it does seem like a good way to bond with neighbors, and grow some tasty food.

Farming and Education

The first time we met Maleek Cole, it was also in a farm setting.  Good Taste Tally is a farm founded by FSU education professor, Dr. George Boggs.  Kind of like iGrow, the farm is run by teens.  In this case it’s a group from 50 Large, a Leon County Public Schools program for at risk youth.  The students we interviewed attended the Success Academy as well.

Good Taste Tally combines the educational goals of the Success Academy garden with the entrepreneurship ideals of iGrow.  There are definite benefits to having kids work with their hands, outdoors.  It’s not a benefit that can be measured by standardized testing.

The Success Academy is the only public school in Leon County where Farming the Future has installed an aquaponics system.  There is one at Cornerstone Learning Community, and Michelle told us that they were building units at the Magnolia School and at the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Cornerstone in particular embraces the connection between education and agriculture.  Students maintain gardens and raise chickens on the campus, and make monthly visits to Longview Farm.

The Sustainability of Aquaponics

We didn’t have space for this in the video, but I thought it was worth sharing.  Michele Madison gave us a few reasons that aquaponics is more ecologically friendly than traditional farming:

  • You can’t use pesticides, because it would kill the fish.  If the plants get aphids, she said, they close the greenhouse and release ladybugs.
  • It uses 1/10 the water as traditional agriculture.  It’s a closed system that makes use of constantly recirculating water.  They do use the nitrogen rich system water to water seedlings, so there is some need to replenish the tank.
  • Because it’s a closed system, it doesn’t threaten local waterways.  Depending on their use of fertilizers, farms are a source of excess nitrogen in waterways.
Michele Madison, Farming the Future, Inc.Want to know how to set up a program like this in your school? Look at our website today.