NEWARK, NJ - There is an aquaponics program located in the heart of Newark New Jersey’s Central Ward that belies its urban setting - literally taking its visitors to another time and place.

TAP into East Orange/Orange Staff was given an exclusive tour of the facility by site administrator Donald Harris who remarked, “For as long as most of the residents can remember, the City of Newark has been cut off from its most important natural resource, the Passaic River. Decades of abuse and neglect allowed physical and psychological barriers to separate the people from the River and, until recently, it has seemed like that separation would continue with no end in sight. 

The latest and most exciting project fueling a resurgence is the construction of a new Aquaponics Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. that will reconnect people to the River in a unique and powerful way, while providing much needed jobs for City residents. 

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This project is a partnership between the Metropolitan Reassertion Community Development Corporation (MRCDC), which is the development arm of Metropolitan Baptist Church and the Lower Passaic River Study Area Cooperating Parties Group (CPG), a group of companies dedicated to helping clean up the Lower Passaic.  In close cooperation with Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, the new center aims to hire and train unemployed veterans to run an aquaponics program that will raise hybrid tilapia and vegetables in an area of the City where healthy food sources are badly needed.  The program will also provide veterans with training in sustainable landscaping and stormwater management, river restoration and small business management.”

“This program is a perfect fit for the veterans we serve,” said Hubert Graham, Metropolitan Baptist Church trustee. “The skills they learn at the Center will be highly marketable and transferrable to other specialties such as landscaping and horticulture.”

The Center will be one of a number of pilot projects funded by the CPG as part of a Sustainable Remedy for the Lower Passaic. The main component of the Sustainable Remedy would be the cleanup of the River itself, but this cleanup would be combined with a holistic approach to restoring the Passaic River, including green infrastructure programs like tree planting, green roofs and rain gardens to reduce impacts from stormwater runoff, as well as public infrastructure improvements like new boat ramps, docks and parks to help bring people back to the rejuvenated River. 

For example, in addition to providing a healthy food source in our City, the Aquaponics program will tackle what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified as the leading source of health risk from River sediment (that’s the contaminated mud at the bottom of the River).  When fish from the River feed along its bottom, they become contaminated with pollutants. And while consumption has been banned in the River for years, fish are still caught from the River and eaten; so, one of the goals of the Aquaponics center will be to exchange contaminated fish from the River for clean fish from the Center. Veterans from the Center will visit known fishing areas and offer to exchange clean fish for polluted ones. 

“The fish exchange is being introduced in order to reduce the human health risk associated with the ingestion of contaminated fish,” explained Dr. Amy Rowe, Environmental and Resource Management Agent for Essex/Passaic Counties. “Community members will be educated by the veterans in this program about the risks of eating contaminated fish, as well as all the ways that Newark residents can do their part to help improve the overall health of the Passaic River.

In the long term, MRCDC hopes to make this Aquaponics Center an educational center for local schools, so children can learn why it’s so important to restore the River and how they can protect it in the future.

 “Right now the Aquaponics Center is an exciting program that will bring quick and substantial benefits to our community,” said Graham. “But we have greater ambitions and hopes for this program. We hope to see it flourish and expand and we need our community to come together to help make that happen.”

For further information about the Aquaponics program or how you can participate in the fish exchange program, please contact Donald Harris at: (908) 644-6840 or email at: dlh1226519@gmail.com.