It all started with a business proposal. Before Gideon Cooper’s friend called him, he had neither heard of aquaponics nor been much of a gardener. His friend proposed a joint business venture in the field of aquaponics farming, but another idea came to Cooper. He remembered a conversation with a Texas orphanage operator who said that many orphanages struggled to provide enough fresh vegetables and proteins to their children.
“I couldn’t get the two thoughts out of my head,” Cooper said, “that aquapoincs provided fresh vegetables and fish, and that orphanages needed it.”
While he wasn’t interested in the business side of things, Cooper decided to get involved for charitable reasons and jumped into the idea headfirst, traveling to Dade City, Fla., to take classes at MorningStar Fishermen, an international aquaponics research and training facility.
“At that time I was 59 and I was, you know, not ready to kick the bucket yet,” he said with a laugh, “but I wanted my life to make a difference before I left this planet, and this just seemed like a great way to be able to help people and make a difference.”
Aquaponics, for those unfamiliar with the term, uses fish and plants in a closed cycle to create a continually renewing food source.
MorningStar Fishermen describes aquaponics as “a fish tank that doubles as a vegetable garden.” The idea is that waste from fish in a tank goes to fertilize soil in which plants such as carrots and potatoes are grown.
In his search for someone to help with his newfound knowledge, Cooper came across Barry and Penny Compton, founders of Open Door Ministries, a nonprofit missions program that has been working with orphans in Honduras. So Cooper planned a trip to the Central American country in January 2013 to visit the Comptons and several other nonprofits and orphanages, to see if they could fit with his plan.
After the trip, there was no question in Cooper’s mind that Open Door Ministries would be the perfect way for him to improve the life of orphans.
“This group, Open Door Ministries, they’re really making a difference in the lives of their kids,” Cooper said. “Their kids were healthy, happy, they had hope in their eyes. They still had some really sad situations that they were growing out of, but they were excited about life. That’s a good thing in an orphanage and that’s why we wanted to join in and help with them.”
Cooper also contacted his church in Summit County, the Church at Agape Outpost, for further assistance. The church agreed to make Cooper’s organization, which he called Food4Kids, into a partnership ministry. While Cooper will be in Honduras doing his project, the church will assist with finances and fundraising.
“I’m really appreciative of the people in the leadership at the Agape Outpost for catching onto the vision and letting us get a partnership with the church,” Cooper said. “This way, people can donate to the church, it’s tax deductible, and people can know I’m not just taking it and putting the money in my pocket.”
Enough funds have been raised to cover Cooper’s travel expenses back to Honduras in November. He will be living at the orphanage and spending his days teaching the kids how to grow their own food in a sustainable manner using aquaponics. Funds raised now will go toward materials such as garden tools, pumps, components for small aquaponics farms, fish tanks and kiddie pools for growing aquatic plants.
Cooper is excited to travel back to Honduras and start his project, which has been two years in the making.
“Sometimes it seems like it’s been two months, and sometimes it’s been 10 years,” he said of the wait. “I’m ready to go!”
Cooper knows he’ll face some challenges along the way. For instance, he’s still learning Spanish, although a five-week immersion course while in Honduras previously was a good start. He’ll also have to leave the country every 90 days and get his passport stamped anew.
But Cooper is more focused on his mission, and meeting the kids who will be under his tutelage.
“I don’t have any kids, I don’t have any grandkids, and when I get down there, overnight, I’ll become a man with about 60 grandkids,” he said, laughing. “I’m a pretty blessed guy, I really am, really fortunate to get this opportunity. (It’s) certainly nothing I’ve earned or deserve — it’s just a gift.”
Those who are interested in Cooper’s progress can follow updates on his blog: f4kagape.wordpress.com. He’ll be writing updates and posting photos.
“I’m looking forward to putting up pictures of happy kids,” he said.