Complex | City Guide

Emmanuel Pratt | Bold Moves Series

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Emmanuel Pratt:

Most people, when they hear about urban farming, but, particularly, like aquaponics, they kind of look at you real funny. "What do you mean, you can grow fish with plants? How does that work?" A lot of times, I have to go back to the basics. You've got water. Feed the fish, they eat. The tank will get cloudy. Everybody gets that. But when you start showing them how to change the chemical composition of the water, so that it actually is a food source, it naturally fertilizes the water, for the plants, then the light bulb goes off. Somebody says, "Wait a second. I can do this? Where can I do this? Can I do it at the household? Can I do it at my church? Can I do it at the school? And that's when it takes off. Over the course of a cycle, you can have up to 5,000 pounds of food, in an acre. Janella


Cucumbers to corn to cabbage of all different kinds. Okra. I don't even like okra. But you can grow it, in the city of Chicago, in an abandoned, vacant

lot. Emmanuel Pratt:

I'm originally from Richmond, Virginia and my roots are now in Chicago. There's always these spaces, all over the city. I started seeing these patterns of vacant lots. In the city of Chicago, you have, like, something like 70,000 vacant lots, empty industrial warehouses that are just sitting and no one seemed to know what to do with them. So, the city became kind of like the

canvas. Orrin Williams:

I'm of the opinion that cities like Chicago, given the terrain: vacant land, vacant buildings, flat roofs, we have the capacity to, in fact, grow and produce 50% or more of our own food. Emmanuel Pratt: There's always myths about what I'm growing. "What do you do in those spaces? Is that really legal?" And, then, we show them, and just through our conversation, people see all the different aspects you can do with this and they buy into it and all of a sudden, two years later, they're saying, "You were right. Now how can I be

involved?" Janella Curtis:

People listen to him, because he's out there, getting his hands, literally, dirty. He's actually committed to changing these neighborhoods, here, on the South Side of Chicago and on the West Side, as well. Emmanuel Pratt: There's a reason why there's a lot of vacancies. It's because people don't choose to invest in those neighborhoods. You have a plot of investment over here, but, then, it's totally disconnected with the South Side or West Side of Chicago. The message that we're trying to relay is that there's always a way. What we do here, is we, actually, physically invest. We put time. We put effort. Blood, sweat, tears. But it's not just a hobby. This is like life. Just by showing people some basics of fish and plants growing together, you can go anywhere in the world and see a career path. What we try to do here, is create safe spaces, to expose, be open to something, other possibilities.

Janella Curtis:

The odds are already stacked up against people who come from these urban communities. He stands for every young child in these communities who

grow up this way. Emmanuel Pratt:

I got my nine-month-old, my wife, and we're sitting in bed, and, then, all of a sudden, some gunshots go off. Speaker: The murder rate in the windy city is up

31%. Speaker:

More than 50 people were shot in the city, from Friday night

through this morning. Emmanuel Pratt:

It kind of shakes me, because I'm thinking, what's the retaliation? What, stray gunfire, who's going to get clipped next? And my hope is to have an impact on any of

that. Orrin Williams:

Emmanuel stands for social justice, economic justice, just being considerate about the plight of

other people. Emmanuel Pratt:

In most of the neighborhoods that I lived in, it's real hard to access fresh and healthy

food. Janella Curtis:

A food desert is any area of any city that has absolutely no fresh food. And, if they do, it's been shifting from far beyond where you can

even imagine. Emmanuel Pratt:

China, Vietnam, Cambodia, somewhere else. That makes me have some real basic questions, on how did that food even get here? How long did it take to get there? Two weeks, a month? How was it grown? Who knows. But that doesn't make sense. Orrin Williams: We can't afford to continue to have a system that brings food from 1,500 miles or 4,000 miles or 8,000 miles away. It's just not going to be sustainable. Emmanuel


When you do it local, when I do it, right here, in the backyard, it's totally sustainable. What we do here makes

sense. Janella Curtis:

You don't have to go to a store across the city to have fresh fruits and vegetables. We teach these kids how to grow their own foods, organically and naturally. They teach their kids and it's a perpetual learning

experience. Emmanuel Pratt:

I'll work with my students, directly and the students will have their own idea and inspiration and, then, they'll bring in their family, and somebody's a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician and, then, all of a sudden, there's like 15 new ideas that's just popped up. You have to work as a team. It takes a unit, in order to make this stuff really work, to be successful, from a

business perspective. Janella Curtis:

He's open to anyone coming in and picking his

brain. Emmanuel Pratt:

The banker, the school teacher, the local grocerer, how do we all work together to collaborate? Orrin


Urbanize, aquapontics, all these things you are seeing, is something that are well within the realm of possibility. And, in fact, are being seen as necessary, making the world a better place in a way that, again, is creative, innovative and audacious. Emmanuel Pratt: There's absolutely nothing else in the world I'd rather be doing. I have people come into the space and they'll be like, "Where's the art?" "Do you see the creation that the person just did, the bottleponics, insulation, that the high school student did, out of recycled art work?" How do you not see this? This is art. Life is art and it's all about the creative imagination. It's all about creativity, just growing.

Emmanuel Pratt discusses the science and sociology behind his Chicago-based urban farming operation, the Sweet Water Foundation. Highlighting all the agricultural wonders yielded by a process known as "Aquaponics," Complex TV takes you behind the scenes to show you just how much Sweet Water is doing to fight urban hunger, and win.

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