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First crop at Fort Worth aquaponics facility will be delayed -- indefinitely

Volunteers go to work like a mobilizing army to dismantle the Aquaponics system and hoop house.
Volunteers go to work like a mobilizing army to dismantle the Aquaponics system and hoop house.
Courtesy of Green Phoenix Farms

It’s Good News -- Bad News – Good News. And, the story goes on.

The second chapter will be written; it’s just that, right now, nobody knows quite when.

The Aquaponics Discovery Center, an educational, training and production project of Feed by Grace and Green Phoenix Farms, is awaiting its rebirth on a new lot in the East Lancaster neighborhood just south of downtown Fort Worth. The large commercial production facility had only recently been completed by the two entities in a landmark partnership effort between a for-profit corporation and a non-profit ministry to the homeless. In fact, permanent power had not yet been connected to the 100-foot hoop house that protected a 1,500-gallon fish tank and growing beds capable of producing 400 heads of lettuce each week. But, the plants were growing, and the fish were swimming.

Then, the land was sold

The new owner had other plans, and could not wait even for the first crop to be harvested. Not only did the fledgling Aquaponics production facility have to be moved, but all the garden planting beds of Project Growth had to be dismantled and moved as well. The innovative urban farm was on its way to self-sufficiency, and was looking forward to expanding operations to include composting, worm farming and chickens.

Neale Mansfield, its director and guiding force, envisions a future in which the homeless citizens of the area can participate in a venture to offer training and employment, produce high-quality locally-grown produce, market a variety of products, and utilize Aquaponics as a teaching and discovery tool for young and old alike.

He sees it as a continuing source of funding for the non-profit ministry, providing a way to help revitalize the East Lancaster neighborhood, offer employment opportunities to the area’s homeless, and bring a bit of hope and renewal to this downtrodden part of the urban landscape.

An army of volunteers came to help

Today, the lot is bare. The Aquaponics facility is in pieces on a lot nearby, awaiting its re-installation on a new lot, with a new hoop house to shield it, and new dreams to grow. Nearby are the wooden frames of the garden’s planting beds, and a variety of other components, including the rolled-up plastic sheeting and the metal hoops that only two days ago shielded the massive growing system.

Watch this video, compiled by a volunteer who was there.

Members of the Dallas Chapter of the Aquaponics Association came willingly Saturday morning to dismantle the growing system. They came en masse, with drills and screwdrivers in hand, with smiles and strong backs, and with an enthusiasm that did not wane. They came with pickups, and with gloves, even though they did not know what they were in for.

They came even earlier than the called for 9 a.m. start time, and they did not rest until the last bucket of gravel had been moved to the secure holding area down the street. That, astonishingly enough, was about 1 p.m. David Cohen, president of the local Association chapter, shook his head with disbelief, as he surveyed the empty scene. He noted that installing the system had required about 6 weeks worth of work.

Why Aquaponics?

The all natural system of growing plants and aquatic animals together so that each nourishes the other in s symbiotic, closed loop system is a relatively new component of urban agricultural businesses in this country. However, advocates point to similar systems in use by the Aztecs and other civilizations around the globe in history, noting that it’s a balanced way of utilizing waste products produced by the fish to provide nutrients for the plants.

The benefits of Aquaponics, according to Adam Cohen, president and owner of Green Phoenix Farms, include fast growth, minimal space requirements, minimal water and energy use, and the absolute absence of chemicals and additives in the chain of growth.