Nigerian-Born Wellness Expert Creates an Aquaponic Farm in Bushwick As She Teaches Food Sovereignty
We first met Yemi Amu at the Healthyish Homecoming produced by Bon Appétit. She was on an amazing panel called “Why Food Sovereignty Matters”. On the panel she discussed how access to food should not be a burden and how her daily work provides information and access. Since that conversation, Yemi has been on our radar as we are always excited to connect with local Black/POC farmers working on food justice in urban communities.
However, we were even more excited to connect with Yemi because her farm doesn’t utilize soil! She is the founder of OKO FARMS, which is an aquaponic farm situated on a Bushwick city lot - “Green Thumb Garden”. The site is mainly used for educational purposes - where 80% of the produce they grow goes towards education and rest they sell to people in the neighborhood, local restaurants and farm shares.
BUT what exactly is aquaponics?
Born and raised in Nigeria, Yemi shares that her mom was an avid gardener. Although she didn’t participate as a kid, she was always surrounded by it, which indirectly sparked her interest in farming.
“In Nigeria during middle school, I took an agricultural science course where I had my own plot of land with chickens. The thing that stayed with me was my experience in the gardens.”
When she moved to the states, she focused on nutrition and nutrition education - studied Ayurveda - Indian holistic health. In graduate school, she studied nutrition behavior modification. “Helping people understand the barriers of healthy dietary and lifestyle habits and figuring out how to get around those barriers”, became a passion of hers.
Through her work before starting a Oko farm, Yemi had experienced the oppressive systems that continue to pigeonhole urban communities. Once a member of the Park Slope Food Co-Op, she felt that the process was stressful as your swipe card can easily be suspended. “It shouldn’t feel like work to get food at affordable prices.”
She has worked with a lot of people who were low income and later worked with an organization that had a housing facility for formally homeless/ mentally ill adults.
Yemi undeniably is a visionary. She grew a kitchen garden on the roof at her job - primarily growing vegetables that they were familiar with. She discovered aquaponics in that process where one of the volunteers suggested this system for growing food where she can also raise fish for her clients. YES - in an urban environment.
“Obsessed with the way food is grown”, Yemi has been farming full time for a long time. Amongst other things, she grew food for a food pantry for several years and ran the farmers market and youth program at Weeksville Heritage Center. After starting her aquaponics garden about 2 years ago, she saw that residents began changing their diets to more plant based and this is largely because she’s able to teach people about the food system.
The truly beautiful thing about Yemi’s farm is that so much of what she does is for educational purposes - she’s really passionate about sharing her knowledge.
There’s so much we have to learn about fish:
“If you want to be able to talk about farm raised fish, people need to be able to experience it”, says Yemi.
The edible fish she uses are channel catfish and blue gill (native fish to the north east). She shares that she doesn’t farm talapia because it can only survive in tropical climates. Tilapia is the biggest farm fish and the oldest (talapia and carte). It blew my mind when she shared that talapia was being farmed in the Nile like 400 BC and the Chinese were farming a version of Channel catfish and carpe. Tilapia originated in the Nile!
As we dove deeper into conversation of meat and seafood. Yemi’s greatest advice when it comes to consumption of meat is “Know the source”.