As Jubilee Housing prepares for the transformational development of the King Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1721 Kalorama Rd NW (KEB) and 2400 Ontario Road (Ontario Place) properties, we are especially excited for the opportunity to create a commercial kitchen-training program powered by a commercial aquaponics farm, housed in the cellar and the rooftop of these residences. The two properties are estimated to break ground in early 2023.
The history of aquaponics traces back to around 1000 AD to a time when ancient peoples found a way to grow food in non-traditions ways that honored the natural relationship of fish and animals. “It’s not a new technology. The Aztecs fed their entire civilization on floating islands. This is sort of a new application of some of the older technologies,” Director of Aquaponics for FreshMinistries Bobby Lee explained. “We really feel that the application of this technology is going to become more relevant than ever in the coming years.”
Jubilee’s aquaponics farm—designed and implemented by programmatic partner FreshMinistries—is expected to yield 13,000+ plants per month, including, basil, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, root vegetables, and more. Looking to expand into the DC area, FreshMinistries worked with Jubilee to create plans for the aquaponics urban farm. “We are grateful to FreshMinistries for this innovative partnership that will create tremendous economic and environmental impacts for our community for years to come,” said Jim Knight, Jubilee Housing President and CEO.
Launched in 1994, FreshMinistries works to eliminate poverty by empowering local communities and individuals to realize their full potential. The FreshMinistries team first learned about aquaponics while they were visiting a university research farm in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They saw aquaponics farms there as a sustainable way to create jobs and food without taking up a large physical footprint. When they got back to the United States, Mr. Bobby Lee and the team began developing aquaponics systems in Jacksonville, Florida. Now FreshMinistries has two aquaponics facilities – Native Fresh in Jacksonville and Island Fresh in St. Croix—and are regarded as one of the experts for aquaponics development in the country.
The partnership aligns deeply with Jubilee Housing’s mission to build intentional community and equity through Justice Housing™. As such, Jubilee Housing’s intention for this project is to further enable the Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, in particular, to thrive from a nearby and accessible healthy, food source; and onsite workforce development resource.
FreshMinistries launched the Desmond Tutu Program to End World Hunger, and connected with the Georgetown University Steers Center for Global Real Estate. Currently, Lee is close to Jubilee, being locally present, during this foundational time, while obtaining an MBA from Georgetown University as well.
Jubilee’s farm will be the first commercial aquaponics farm in the DC Metropolitan region with our peers at the University of the District of Columbia, spearheading this timeless innovation via their own research-based and community-driven aquaponics farm located in Ward 7. According to George Yeonas, Georgetown University’s Managing Director of Steers Center for Global Real Estate—who have partnered with Jubilee in developing program research and systems evaluation—“Jubilee’s aquaponics project stands to become the first residential facility of its kind in America, and we are proud to be associated with Jubilee to help make this happen.”
Jubilee’s aquaponics farm—which will be powered by a solar-panel array located on the Ontario Place’s roof—will be instituted as a sustainable closed-loop system. The system will combine aquaculture and hydroponics, utilizing two fish tanks and multiple plant greenhouses—located below street level and on the roof on Ontario Place as permanent and temporary structures respectively in accordance with zoning code.
The aquaculture portion of the farm will contain organically raised fish that will be fed by the plants and produce directly generated within this closed system. In turn, the fishes’ role in the system is to infuse the hydroponic plant system with high-nitrite water—generated as a waste product of their normal growth. “It’s almost too good to be true, being able to provide quality food on a consistent basis in a place with limited resources is invaluable,” said Fresh Ministries Founder, Chairman and CEO Rev. Dr. Robert V. Lee III.
The KEB and Ontario Place sites will need to hire four full-time staff—two directors and two assistants—who will direct re-entry residents in their workforce development training throughout their stay in Jubilee’s Re-Entry Housing Program that was founded in 2011. In establishing these unique programs, Jubilee aims to not only provide fresh meals three (3) times per day for returning citizen residents through a new, onsite commercial kitchen training program—but to also share meals with the neighborhood community close to the KEB site. “We want to foster a place of community, a place where people can come together. What better way to bring folks together and develop lasting relationships, than through the power of food and the breaking of bread,” said Martin Mellett, VP of External Affairs at Jubilee Housing.
Rev. Dr. Lee observed that Jubilee Housing and FreshMinistries share a common mission of building equity in communities that need it most, and were both organizations founded in faith. There were a number of intersections and similarities between the two organizations. As Jubilee expands its Re-Entry Transitional Housing Program—creating DC’s first re-entry housing continuum of care—Jim Knight, Jubilee Housing’s President and CEO alongside Rev. Dr. Robert Lee saw a partnership opportunity. They both realized that social enterprises for aquaponics are lacking nationally and that this technology could be a benefit to people living in the Jubilee community and surrounding neighborhoods.
The two properties are a part of Jubilee’s work to build Justice Housing™—deeply affordable housing, in thriving, resource-rich neighbors, with onsite and nearby supportive services. The Ontario Place property will contain 50 apartment units—half set aside for returning citizens ready for long-term housing in a supportive community. The other half of the units in Ontario Place are two- and three-bedroom apartments for families. In total, the Ontario Place property.
Likewise, the KEB property will house up to eighteen returning citizens at a time and includes accommodations for a 24-hour Resident Manager, adding this much-needed housing for returning citizens exiting incarceration, directly into Jubilee’s trauma-informed care program.