Trash Mountain Project heading to Honduras

[left to right] Mollyanne Gibson with Chris and Carol Mammoliti, who run local non-profit organization Trash Mountain Project, pose in front of the TPM booth at Topeka’s farmer’s market.

On Saturday Jan. 31, senior Mollyanne Gibson will be traveling to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to build an aquaponics facility at a school in a “trash dump community,” as the Topeka non-profit group Trash Mountain Project (TMP) calls it.

“Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (cultivating plants in water) and hydroponics (fish husbandry),” Gibson said.

Gibson went on to explain how the fish and the plants are raised in separate tanks connected by tubes. Ammonia present in the fish waste is converted into chemical compounds containing oxygen and nitrogen known as nitrates. The water with the nitrates then goes into the other tank and fertilizers vegetables, such as lettuce. Once the vegetables have absorbed the nitrates, the water is recycled back into the fish tank.

“This symbiotic system is a very efficient way to raise vitamin-packed vegetables and high-protein fish in communities where there is no arable soil,” Gibson said.

Gibson will be going to Honduras with TMP, an organization that is dedicated to creating Christ-centered environments in trash dump communities around the world.  In these communities, the members spend the entirety of their days going through the trash in hopes of finding things they can eat, sell or use to build their houses.

The aquaponics system will be built at Amor Fe y Esperanza (AFE), a K-12 school for children in the trash dump community.

“TMP’s partnership with AFE has helped the school keep its doors open, start a nutrition program and now begin an aquaponics livelihood program. TMP also helps provide housing, clean water, pastoral training, and medical and dental care to meet the needs of the families in each community,” Gibson explained.

Gibson will graduate in May with degrees in biology and biochemistry and will begin attending KU Medical School in July.  Gibson will be taking a week off of school to go on this trip.  While some have questioned the timing of this trip, Gibson believes she is making the right choice.

“Why now? I get that question often,” Gibson said. “We make time for what is important to us,” Gibson said. “Providing hope and nutritious food to children in desperate situations is important to me, so I am making time for it. I have been so blessed with the opportunity and resources to participate in this trip.”

Gibson interned at the aquaponics facility in Topeka this past summer where she helped run the aquaponics system, harvest the vegetables they grew and sell them at the farmer’s market.  She was asked by TMP to go on the trip this past semester. Gibson agreed and has been actively preparing since then, including by learning Spanish so she can converse with the locals.

This will be TMP’s second time setting up an aquaponics system outside the United States.  The first aquaponics system set up outside the U.S. was at Kids with a Hope School in the Dominican Republic, outside of the Cien Fuergos trash dump community.

It will take several months for the nitrogen cycle, the process that converts unusable chemicals produced by the fish to the usable chemicals for the plants, to establish itself and for the fish and lettuce to be able to be added into the tanks, but during that time TMP will train leaders of the community to run and fix the aquaponics facility so that they can provide nutritious food for their entire community once Gibson and her team leave. 

“Teaching people how to provide food for their community is sustainable poverty alleviation,” Gibson said. “It brings dignity and hope to the community. To modify an old adage, if you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day, but if you teach him to run aquaponics, he can feed his entire community.”