By Brooke Hill | Staff Writer
Thanks to Mission Waco’s new Urban REAP (Renewable Energy and Agriculture Project), Waco is now able to turn food waste into soil and sunlight into energy.
The project was kick-started when Green Mountain Energy Sun Club provided Mission Waco with a grant of $234,000 to fund it. Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell said he sent in the original proposal for the grant and was pleasantly surprised when they reached out to him and asked to make it into an even bigger project.
Dorrell has a master’s degree in environmental studies as does his wife, so after their previous involvement in Baylor’s Environmental studies program, he felt equipped to take on the challenge of putting this project together. He contacted environmental science senior lecturer Larry Lehr and lab coordinator Doug Nesmith, along with two engineering professors from Baylor and two urban architects from Ball State University to become consultants on how to best go about designing the project.
With the help of Lehr and Nesmith, their students in the composting aspect, as well as students from the Baylor engineering department in the solar energy portion, the Urban REAP project opened on Aug. 21 to the public. The project includes an aquaponics greenhouse, solar energy array, rainwater catchment and purification system, composting system and a training center for kids.
“Everything in our environment is part of God’s creation and we should do our best to maintain that creation and the best way to maintain it is to be sustainable,” Nesmith said.
The greenhouse is located on the corner of North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, next to Jubilee Food Market, which opened in November to help residents who lived more than two miles from the nearest grocery store and had no means to get there.
The aquaponic greenhouse was shipped in pieces from Canada, and Nesmith personally picked it up from Houston. After being assembled in Waco, it been producing radishes, tomatoes, Swiss chard, basil and Romaine lettuce, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
Dorrell said that they’ve received interest from the Waco community since they began building the greenhouse, which took about six months.
“Even though we’re still way behind in America, there’s a subculture at least that’s very much into this stuff,” Dorrell said.
Nesmith agreed that having the greenhouse around will have a positive impact on kids and adults alike in the community.
“It is a great learning opportunity to show what people can do with their own homes, or in businesses later on in life. Everybody in their own home can do a better job of reusing, recycling, using renewable energy, composting, which prevents putting a lot of waste material in the landfills and turning it into something we can use,” Nesmith said.
The entire system of the greenhouse was designed to be sustainable, including paying the staffers.
“The produce sold pays for the people who work there, so the whole system itself is sustainable, not just in the fact that we’re recycling water, food waste, and energy, but it’s sustainable in the fact that it pays for itself with the products it’s producing,” Nesmith explained.
Mission Waco explains that the cultural mandate, which is a part of Genesis, is God’s challenge to take care of what he gave us on their website.
“On some level it’s worth it no matter what, but because from our Christian world view, when they do the research around western Christians we’re doing a really lousy job in terms of taking care of God’s Earth… practically and theologically I believe God gave us the privilege to take care of animals and nature and all the rest, and we’ve done a really lousy job because we’re selfish,” Dorrell said. “The more selfish we become, the less we care about the impact on others, and so for us this is a teaching opportunity. We’re just being good stewards of God’s Earth.”
Mission Waco is asking the public to donate food waste and is making buckets available for the process.