The regular monthly "Gathering" of the Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter of the national Aquaponics Association will be held Saturday, April 5, in Fort Worth, at the Presidio St. location of Project Growth. The garden in a downtrodden East Lancaster neighborhood offers employment opportunities and other benefits to the area's homeless population.
Beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing until early afternoon, volunteers will work to dismantle a commercial aquaponics system that had only recently been installed. In fact, the February Association Gathering was held at the same location, just before the system was operational.
It will be a workday that nobody expected.
The community garden has been operated by Feed by Grace, a Fort Worth non-profit ministry serving the area's homeless, for several years; It is located adjacent to Unity Park in the neighborhood that sits in the shadow of the freeways, within sight of the downtown business district. The homeless population of the area has benefited from the sale of fresh produce grown in the garden; and the aquaponics facility was designed to provide employment opportunities as well as additional financial support for the area and for the improvement programs envisioned by Feed by Grace.
The dream of neighborhood revitalization has been a goal of Feed by Grace founder Neale Mansfield for a decade. It was taking shape, with the establishment of the aquaponics system under a greenhouse hoop structure. Also planned for this summer's growing season were a new row of raised garden beds to be planted and maintained by area residents as a true community garden, a composting operation, and traditional growing beds on an adjacent lot. Yet to come were chicken coops and a worm-farming operation.
But, the fish were swimming in the aquaponics system, seedlings had been planted, and the first harvest was anticipated by mid to late April. Classes were scheduled to train those interested in acquiring the skills to maintain the system. And, educational seminars were being planned for other organizations and for school groups who wanted to tour the operation.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
The land that housed the garden was sold. The new owners have other plans for the lot.
So the garden will be moved.
Mansfield will not be deterred. His organization has already begun the work of relocating planting beds to a nearby lot; some planting will occur in time for produce to be sold this summer to support the program.
Moving the aquaponics facility is a little more difficult. But, the partnership between Feed by Grace and Dallas-based Green Phoenix Farms which was responsible for the original system design and installation, is strong and intact. The system will be moved to its new location, and it is anticipated that it might be up and running again within 2-3 months. Moving a 1,500-gallon fish tank and approximately 750 square feet of growing space capable of producing 400 heads of lettuce each week is not an easy task, however.
According to Dave Cohen, vice president of Green Phoenix Farms, the commitment is stronger than ever.
"We are determined," he said, "that this project will go forward, and we have had a tremendous response from our friends and associates in local aquaponics."
A Helping Hand
Cohen, who also serves as president of the local Aquaponics Association chapter, noted that volunteers have offered to help out in any way possible to assure that the system will be systematically dismantled and efficiently reinstalled at its new location.
It will not occur immediately, though, said Cohen, because of the requirement for fencing and additional sitework at the new location. Saturday's work day is an effort to "get a jump on the process." he said, adding that the components will be dismantled and moved to an adjacent lot which will serve as a "holding station" until the new site is prepared.
Members of the Association chapter here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area meet monthly to share information and exchange ideas about aquaponics, which is a growing system that employs a natural symbiotic relationship between fish and plants, with each nourishing the other in a completely natural growing environment. There are no requirements for membership, according to Cohen, other than an interest in the subject, and a desire to meet others with the same interest. For additional information, visit DFW Aquaponics here.
At the end of the volunteer work session on Saturday, said Cohen, the seedlings which had been planted in the Fort Worth system will be available to anyone who wishes to transplant them to a home system.