DADE CITY — Morning Star Fishermen, described as the best kept secret in Dade City by its director Phil Reasons, helps feed communities throughout the world.
Reasons and the nonprofit Christian organization’s staff teach a farming system using aquaponics — where raising fish and farming are combined in a self-sustaining and environmentally friendly process. In the aquaponics system, farmers use nutrient-rich water laden with fish waste and then re-circulate the water back to the fish after it has been naturally cleansed by the plants.
“In a nutshell, our mission is helping others help themselves, Reasons said. “We have developed farm systems that we can go in and teach and train [people in poor communities) how to farm the systems, and then they can produce food on their own.”
The organization also teaches how to pass the knowledge on to others.
Morning Star Fishermen has set up aquaponic farms in Togo and Bangula, Malawi; Jinotepe, Nicaragua and Fond Parisien, Haiti.
The organization’s mission doesn’t just apply to people in other parts of the world.
“About half the people we work with are from the U.S., Florida and all throughout the country,” Reasons said. “Typically, those individuals are concerned with food quality. Today, foods are basically chemical replacements for what grandma and grandpa used to grow. Some people, they’re dissatisfied with the taste and the quality of the food and some are just really concerned with the safety of the foods they are eating, others are concerned with the cost.”
The staff teaches local classes and provides internships for students from across the country at the Morning Star Fishermen Training and Research Center. Studies include: working with various technologies; breeding; feeding; managing waste; maximizing growth; gardening; weeding; and general maintenance.
Morning Star Fishermen was founded in Largo by Hans and Sigrid Geissler in 1993. The Geisslers still live on the property at 33336 Old Saint Joe Road in Dade City. They moved the facility to Dade City in 1999, Reasons said.
Hans Geissler was born in Germany near the beginning of World War II where his father sustained the family by growing food in the backyard. The couple moved to the U.S. in 1963.
Morning Star Fishermen grew out of an experience Geissler had in Guatemala in 1990 where he had caught fish and had given them to hungry families. He soon realized they needed to learn to fish for themselves or they would continue to go hungry.
The couple say their favorite Bible scripture is found in Luke 5:10 when Jesus spoke to Simon Peter — “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men”.
Modifying the old proverb about teaching a man to fish, the organization says: “Give a man fish and he eats for one day, teach him how to raise fish and grow vegetables and the whole community eats for a lifetime”
“Our faith is at the heart of all we do,” according to the organization’s website. “Our staff, our volunteers and our interns, all are committed to a shared faith and a common understanding of how that faith is lived out day-to-day.”
Reasons, a third generation farmer from Missouri, took the position of executive director three years ago. He had been aqua-farming for six years and had taken some training from Morning Star Fishermen in 2009.
Morning Star Fishermen staff spend the day tending to the tank filled with thousands of fish and a variety of vegetables, herbs and trees that are nurtured by the aquaponics system, and they continue to research new and better ways to farm.
Oftentimes, they have to overcome a challenge that one of their overseas facilities is facing. Speaking of one African farm, Reasons said: “We set up solar power because there was no electricity in the area, and they’re experiencing a really cloudy summer which is incredibly abnormal, but we have to deal with different climates and change in topography and temperature. You know, we’re farming and we’re farming all over the world so it’s not like I can say here’s what you need to do, this is what we did in Haiti and it works great, because it’s not going to work in Africa or in Honduras or wherever. So, we’re always struggling through those kinds of issues.”
A tour of Morning Star Fishermen showcases some of the ways those problems are solved. A bicycle sitting over a fish tank was one of those solutions for an African farm.
“We needed a backup pump for one of our locations in Africa, so I set up a project, gave some designs to some of our interns and said that we need to build this [pump] out of materials we could find in the middle of Africa. We had some parameters, we had to produce 39 gallons a minute.”
Reasons pumps the pedals, turns the wheels and the chains work a pump that spills water into another tank “We call it appropriate technology,” Reasons said.
The tanks of Morningstar Fishermen also contain fish from outer space, at least they were born there. In 2000, an aquaculturist was invited by NASA to take fertilized tilapia eggs to a space shuttle to see whether they would hatch. They did, and six of the fish were brought to Morning Star Fishermen where they have been raised and have been breeding since.
Morning Star Fishermen provides opportunities for volunteers, interns, missionaries, church groups, youth groups, personal endeavors, and private organizations that want to learn how to construct and operate an aquaponics system.
The organization has aquaponic set-ups for farms of various sizes. The facility also has a seed-lending program where interested people can “borrow seeds” and grow them, and harvest the fruit. They pay back the organization by harvesting the seed and returning the seed to the facility.
Information on classes and other services can be found on the website at morningstarfishermen.org. For information, call (352) 523.2722 or email at msf mail@morningstarfisher men.org.