In South Florida, 11.6% of the population is food insecure, with 706,430 people not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Additionally, 18.9% of children (236,270) in South Florida go to bed hungry every night. Due to COVID-19, more than 15% of South Florida households now say they do not have enough to eat, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In certain communities, protein malnutrition is often the most common form of nutrient deficiency. A study done by Feeding America found that people currently facing hunger are likely falling further behind academically and economically as they continue to struggle to buy enough nutritious food to meet their needs. In addition, malnourished children tend to underperform in school, limiting their future job opportunities. Malnourished adults are also less able to work, contribute to local economies, or provide care for their families.
Marine Education Initiative (MEI) is sustainably growing fresh produce and helping to provide those in need with highly nutritious meals. The revolutionary farming technique of aquaponics allows MEI to raise fish together with vegetables, greens, herbs, and fruits. Aquaponics is the combination of types of agriculture: hydroponics and aquaculture. Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil while aquaculture grows fish in controlled environments. Aquaponics uses the best of both by growing plants with the nutrient-rich wastewater left by the fish, while the plants clean the water. MEI’s aquaponics system is located in an indoor controlled warehouse environment in Boca Raton, FL to eliminate any potential risks associated with growing produce outdoors. The produce will be disbursed on a weekly basis to local soup kitchens such as Boca Helping Hands in Boca Raton, Palm Beach Habilitation Center in Palm Springs, FL, and St. George's Center in West Palm Beach, FL.
This program will also serve as an educational tool for our marine conservation education programs as well as job training opportunities for youth interested in pursuing careers in agriculture, aquaponics, or aquaculture. MEI seeks to partner with schools to promote STEM education by implementing smaller-scale aquaponics systems on school campuses.