Volume No. 17 Issue No. 7 July 2020  

  Faces of Black Forest
  Helping the world and community

     Josh Imhoff is the founder and owner of Emerge Aquatics in Black Forest. They have been giving out lettuce to the community since March 20, in response to circumstances caused by COVID-19.
   The first Friday of distribution, 400 cars came through, and they handed out 800 bags, totaling 2,400 heads of lettuce. A couple of weeks ago, they still had 200 cars come through.
   Imhoff’s penchant for helping others began early in life.
   He was born in Paducah, Kentucky, but lived all over the United States. His parents did mission work for Youth With A Mission or YWAM, which contributed to some of the moves. Imhoff said he and his two brothers attended 17 different schools during their K-12 years. They were living in Northern Michigan when Imhoff graduated from high school; he attended the nearby community college for about two years. When he turned 21, he said he left the community college to attend the University of the Nations because he wanted to take classes focused on mission work and sustainability to help people in other countries.
   The University of the Nations offered classes in different countries as part of the students learning experience, which is how he met his wife, Sarah, also a student. They met in Sweden and have been married 16 years. Although born in Minnesota, Sarah Imhoff lived all over the world with her family, who also did missionary work, he said. Imhoff said after they married, they decided to continue to work with YWAM in a nonprofit capacity, touring around the United States speaking at college and university campuses and churches. They moved to Colorado in December 2006, because they traveled by tour bus and wanted to be more centrally located.
   About 10 years ago, Imhoff said they began focusing on business because jobs are the real need around the world. They started teaching courses on micro-financing, business and development training. Imhoff said he doesn’t remember exactly how they got started in aquaponics but besides needing a job, people also needed food. They quickly realized the potential for individuals, communities and businesses to generate an income and/or to feed themselves using aquaponics; thus, the move toward starting up farms around the world.
   Imhoff said he and his wife started Emerge Aquaponics in July 2012, but things didn’t get going until the next year. He said the name Emerge came from talking to people worldwide about how to rise up and step up to a better life. The name also represents the process of growing lettuce.
   He and his family moved to their present property three years ago, and it includes 43 acres and 17 buildings, along with four greenhouses. He said they wanted to have their own farm to provide hands-on teaching and training and become experts at what they were promoting. Imhoff said he designed the system, and it has been operational for a little more than a year. People come from all over the world come to learn about and be trained on how to build and run an aquaponics farm, he said. “I have been to 60-plus countries building aquaponics, developing businesses in other countries and just traveling,” Imhoff said.
   They have five children, ages 14, 12, 10, 8 and 2. Imhoff said free time involves doing things with the kids — walking, riding bikes and hiking. “It’s mostly about the kids, and loving them,” he said. “They have traveled all over the world with us so I would say our hobby as a family is traveling around the world, building, creating and helping others. The kids also know how to do almost everything in the aquaponics farm.” The children are homeschooled and attend Home School Academy, so they also go to public school part of the time. He said homeschooling helps the kids keep up with their studies while traveling. They also attend Mountain Springs Church.
   Imhoff said the Emerge Aquaponics Board makes sure he keeps his life in balance and finds time for his family, himself and his faith. “If I didn’t have the roots that I do or the faith I have, I would have lost it a long time ago,” he said. “So I try to have balance and do things that bring joy. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I didn’t think we should be trying to change the world and helping other people — and all of that comes from my faith in God. There are over a billion people who only make $2 a day, and there are people all over the world who don’t have money to eat especially now due to COVID. Having seen people die of starvation made us ask ourselves how we can help become a solution to these problems.”
   They lost a majority of their sales during COVID, as their buyers are mostly colleges, universities and restaurants, he said. They went from selling 2,000 heads of lettuce to 50 heads a week. Imhoff said they didn’t know what to do with all of their produce, but they knew they couldn’t just throw it away. “Just knowing how it felt for us, in that we lost everything that funds most of what we do, we decided to give it away,” he said.
   They started with senior citizen centers, food banks and pantries; from there, they wanted to help the community, particularly those who lost their jobs. “Our message throughout the 15 weeks of giving away bags of lettuce is to take one for yourself and take another to give to a neighbor who is hard up, a senior citizen on a limited income or someone who lost their job,” Imhoff said. They plan to continue giving away lettuce every Friday for now and are also at the Black Forest Backyard Farmers Market on Saturdays. “It’s been hard finding balance during COVID, but the key to moving forward is to finding that healthy rhythm,” he said.
The Imhoff family travels the world helping others and during COVID-19, they’ve been helping the locals. Pictured here is Josh and Sarah and their children, who aren’t identified at the request of their parents. Submitted photo
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