Among the partnerships with Seventy Five North, some are represented through satellite establishments and others are reflected in work done behind the scenes. One partnership stands out clearly when you drive by Highlander on North 30th Street. A large glass structure is located at the top of the hill adjacent to Salem Baptist Church.
Is that a greenhouse? You may ask. Yes, it is.
The greenhouse belongs to Whispering Roots, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing healthy fresh food, nutrition education, innovative agriculture techniques and S.T.E.M. education to underserved communities. Greg Fripp, Founder/CEO of Whispering Roots, knows there is a need to ensure food security in the Highlander neighborhood. Their business model is unique to the state of Nebraska and has never been done before in any Purpose Built Community.
“We realize this is a food desert so the main focus is North Omaha,” Greg explains. “For us to provide quality food and high-quality produce at the point of consumption in this community is essential. We want this to remain a place for residents to gain nutritional knowledge and access to the programs.”
Whispering Roots will locate their operations to the Accelerator building where they will operate a greenhouse spanning 6,000 SF, an aquaculture facility of 4,500 SF, and 3,200 SF of classrooms, offices and a construction lab. The aquaculture facility will locate on the first floor of the building to recirculate water tanks with a wet lab where students can design freshwater aquariums.
“At the bottom, the tanks provide for a water filtration system which will be biosecure in order to grow steelhead trout which is the future of fish production," Greg says. "Whispering Roots’ aim is to train the next generation of aquaculturists and scientists to operate greenhouses and prepare for a new food system market.” The space also accommodates plant processing to allow for future produce to be packaged or exported to local groceries.
The classrooms, offices and construction lab will offer an educational component in addition to the greenhouse by operating a Culinary Engagement Center. The space will be fit for instructional sessions provided by Creighton University and Metropolitan Community College. Educational opportunities will be offered directly to residents living in or near Highlander and Howard Kennedy students.
Greg Fripp is a former member of the United States Navy and fell in love with the idea of food social justice by learning about food deserts and witnessing how economic status affects the ability to live a healthy life. After leaving the Navy, Greg held a corporate job at TD Ameritrade and originally thought the idea of Whispering Roots would be a short-term project, but in 2010 he left TD Ameritrade to pursue the organization full-time.
Not long after, educational aquaponic tanks were installed at King Science Magnet Center as a service learning project. Greg remembers being told he was farfetched to consider teaching kids in North Omaha how to grow their own food, but in three years the program took kids to a statewide competition on aquaponics and STEM technology, then to nationals representing one of the top 15 schools in the nation.
“For me, this is about equality and opportunity. It’s not about a handout but a hand up,” Greg said. “Anybody can do this work and plan to go into an area that already has resources but we needed to be in North Omaha. We have to go where there are no resources to give people a fighting chance.”
The educational programming has been replicated in 15 Omaha-area schools, including Howard Kennedy, but the work is not limited to Omaha. Whispering Roots has active efforts in Madagascar and Haiti.
“Haiti is a different world,” Greg explains. “We’ve been going to Haiti for three years now. The first stop was at a feeding station and we saw families and children dealing with starvation. From then on, we built a program around aquaponics, hydroponic sustainability and recirculating food systems to teach and help provide access to healthy foods.”
As the program grows, Whispering Roots has grand plans to use their model as the future of food systems across the region. Having already been established in the schools, they are ensuring a pipeline of specialists who can work in this field.
Whispering Roots headquarters will begin local programming and open for tours beginning in the Spring of 2019. Learn more about the efforts at WhisperingRoots.org or their Facebook page.
About the Writer - JoAnna LeFlore is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Nebraska. As an advocate for celebrating culture, she shares her experiences regularly on her blog at joannaleflore.com. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter at @leflorecreative.
About the Photographer - Davie Grams, LLC is a Nebraska based business whose purpose is to provide photography services and community outreach through various programs and projects. Follow the Davie Grams trail on Instagram @davie_gram, and Facebook @Davie Grams, LLC