Throughout my life, I’ve always had a lot of compassion for children, especially for those who have been victims of trauma. As I dug deeper, I kept wondering how could I help these kids. I asked myself, “How can I, as a fly fisherman, move the needle of justice?”
While I was going through my discernment process, I met up with a good friend of mine. At the time he was learning how to build an amazing type of farm system called Aquaponics. Aquaponics farming combines two worlds: Aquaculture (raising fish) and Hydroponics (growing plants without soil). In the system, the fish create nutrients for the plants to grow, and the plants clean the water for the fish. It is a closed-loop system that constantly recycles the same water. I learned that this mini, self-enclosed ecosystem has the potential to be very beneficial in areas of the world where resources are limited.
Later that year when I was talking to my wife and brainstorming ways that I could potentially help others through fly fishing, she turned to me and nonchalantly said, “Why don’t we raise money through fly fishing to build farms?” As soon as the idea formed, I knew that this is what we were supposed to do. Yes, it was unconventional, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pursue it.
Out of this dream our non profit Fly Fishing Collaborative (FFC) was created as a way to fund the Aquaponics farms. Whether it was our elegant fly fishing wallets created by Saddleback Leather Company or guided fly fishing trips, people in our fly fishing community were eager to get involved and play a part in helping the vulnerable. At our auction, we celebrate that fly fishing can reach far beyond what it may seem at the surface; a person’s next fishing trip, or the fly they tie to catch their next fish, can positively impact the life of a human trafficking survivor.
When I first formed FFC and was trying to find people and places in the world that could benefit from a sustainable food source, I started to learn a lot about the orphan crisis.
The human trafficking industry capitalizes on people who are extremely vulnerable. The harsh reality is this: Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. There are an estimated 9 million women and young girls caught in trafficking today; and many of them are sold because of a lack of resources. Often, a family’s low economic status is what causes a child to be commoditized and sold, and sometimes women sell themselves out of desperation to survive.
In some cases, people give away their children with the hope that they will have a better life when, in reality, the trafficker who tricked them was just posing as a factory worker or educator. Others are abducted from their villages, taken to brothels, and are never seen, or heard from, again.
We were overwhelmed with the realization that we could provide a new commodity, a sustainable resource, for poor communities so that they can prevent the women and children from being sold. We also realized that we could help sustain children’s homes and safe homes that are on the front lines of rescuing kids.
In early 2014, we threw caution to the wind, proclaimed our mission, and began fundraising to build aquaponics farms. By that November, we had raised enough for our first farm, and assembled a volunteer team to go to Northern Thailand. There, we established a farm for two safe homes that were caring for 120 children. During that build, we realized that our vision had turned into a reality. After that project was completed, we were even more motivated to move this mission forward.
Since 2014, the Fly Fishing Collaborative has established 10 farms in 8 countries around the world. We’ve built farms for impoverished villages, children’s homes, safe homes, and even schools to help supplement income for their scholarship programs. Each aquaponics farm is given to the home or orphanage that we build it for, but we always promise technical support for as long as they need it.
We have been so thrilled to be able to provide an ongoing supply of harvestable fish and vegetables for hundreds of kids around the world. What we didn’t expect was that we were also providing a therapeutic activity for the kids to engage in. In many of the children’s homes that we build for, the kids partake in caring for the farm. We recently sat down with a director of a safe home who we built a farm for in Mexico City to discuss her vision for the farm. She shared her excitement about the opportunities that it will create for the girls. In her own words, “I feel like the aquaponics farm will help our girls develop the caring and nurturing they never received.” She is excited to use the farm as a tool to help the girls find hope and healing. “Nothing is wasted in an aquaponics system,” she said. “Even the waste from the fish is useful. These girls can understand that the part of their life that they thought was a complete waste can, in time, bring help and nourishment to others. As they prune the branches, they’ll learn more about life’s healthy little prunings that help us grow. As they protect the plants from harmful predators, they will remember that they’re in a safe place too. As they control the environmental elements that come into the greenhouse, they will realize that they can’t isolate entirely, but they’ll learn how to safely let the world in.”
It takes a long time for trafficking victims to find empowerment and to realize that they actually have a voice in this world. There are major cognitive and neurological changes that take place during their healing process. Thanks to our amazing community, and to aquaponics farming, we can provide a tool to help in that process.
We definitely don’t have all the answers, and we’re only one small piece of a huge global network of solutions. However, human trafficking is a man-made problem, so we can work together to create man-made solutions to right the wrongs that have been made. Together, through our amazing community of supporters, we have found a creative and sustainable way to join in that effort.