Plant it Forward opens largest aquaponics lab

Ashley Montgomery | 10/24/2013, 9 a.m.
A unique university-community school partnership has recently invaded the campus of Miami Northwestern Senior High School [MNSH]. The Plant It ...
Evens Milcette, senior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School

A unique university-community school partnership has recently invaded the campus of Miami Northwestern Senior High School [MNSH]. The Plant It Forward food production educational program, powered by One America and led by Points of Light, was a fun-filled event while discussing some of the more pressing community issues.

The event kicked off with students leading tours of the 1,600 gallon aquaponics tanks located in the rear of the school. The two tanks contained over 50 tilapia fish each with pepper plants being filtered above. Angie Fleurissaint, now a Florida International University [FIU] sophomore majoring in agroecology and a Northwestern alum, was elated to see how far the program has come. Fleurissaint joined the program as an intern under the Education Effect program.

“This event is very important to me; I was in the program that started all of this,” she said. “I received a $26,000 scholarship to attend FIU in 2012 through the Education Effect partnership with MNSH.”

Special guests attending the tour included: State Senator Dwight Bullard; M-DCP School Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall; M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho; and FIU President Mel Martinez.

“Once the trees and plants begin to bear fruit, we plan to donate them to the community, neighboring schools and hopefully be able to sustain our own,” said Evens Milcette, a senior at MNSH.

Second chances granted through program

As the tour came to an end, guests settled under a spacious tent to be part of a panel discussion focusing on how to find sustainable solutions to end hunger. MNSH Principal Wallace Aristide was the master of ceremonies of the program.

The star-studded panel consisted of: Jose Andres, celebrity chef and philanthropist; Ingrid Hoffman, chef and host; Adrianne Calvo, restauranteur; and crowd favorite, student Brandon Allen.

Allen, a senior at MNSH, shared his poignant story of how he was shot in his right jugular vein in 2012 and how thankful he is for the aquaponics program.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life because I saw it flash before me,” Allen said.

“FIU came to me and told me about this program and it really peaked my interest. Now it’s something I can do for the rest of my life.”

Allen spoke of the hands-on experience that he has gained from the largest aquaponics program in M-DC.

“Hopefully, people see that this is beneficial for the whole entire world,” he added.

The Education Effect has helped MNSH go from a D to a B school, according to the Florida Department of Education, and increase its graduation rate by 10 percent.

At the event’s conclusion, volunteers from Hands On Miami, Hands On Broward and Chase packaged and distributed 1,000 mobile garden bags to students and residents of Liberty City.