Church hopes to spread word of its aquaponics project around world
There’s that old saying about how if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life.
Somewhere in that idea, there must be room for a 175-gallon tank swimming with koi, goldfish and tilapia. They do their business, and in a nearby growing bed taro, tomatoes, lettuce, loofah, basil and a handful of other plants bloom from a layer of clay pellets.
Rick Kenagy, who envisioned the project, jokes that the fish do all the work, and it’s true that they are at the heart of aquaponics. But let’s say it’s a team effort: The fish and volunteer gardeners at Canyon View Vineyard Church are making a success of an aquaponics project added to Canyon View’s community garden in February.
Under the protection of a greenhouse built for less than $2,500 with volunteer labor, tanks full of fish are helping plants grow. And because of that, church leaders hope they are creating a model that can be patterned and recreated worldwide.
“Our real heart is to help not only feed the poor in this community, but help feed the poor around the world,” said the Rev. Bob Clifford, outreach pastor at Canyon View.
Aquaponics, Kenagy said, has the potential to do that. It’s a combination of hydroponics — growing plants in soil-less media — and aquaculture, or raising aquatic species in a controlled environment.
In the Canyon View aquaponics system, water from the fish tanks is pumped through growing beds layered with lava rock and clay pellets. Naturally occurring bacteria in those media convert the ammonia in the fish waste to nitrates, which feed the plants growing in the clay pellets. The water, now filtered and cleaned, is then cycled back to the fish tanks.
Adding an aquaponics project was a natural extension of the community garden, Kenagy said.
The garden itself was envisioned five years ago, and half an acre south of the church’s main campus was planted in 2010. Dozens of volunteers helped cultivate it, and that first year harvested 12,000 pounds of produce, Kenagy said. About half went home with the gardeners, while the other half was donated to community members and organizations.
“(The garden) is a campus ministry, and we’re trying to show the practical Jesus,” Kenagy said. “Our church motto is reaching the unreached, so we’re really focused on building community out here.”
Local gardens and greenhouses donated seeds, and more people volunteered, so the garden was expanded to an acre. Using the Mittleider Method, which emphasizes focused fertilization and watering, allowed for denser and more concentrated planting, so last year the garden yielded 15,000 pounds of produce, Kenagy said. The garden was cultivated by 225 volunteers who logged 1,800 hours of work time.
In fact, he said, 70 percent of the garden’s volunteers aren’t members of Canyon View: “We manage it,” he said, “but this really is the community’s garden, and we’re so grateful this is a place where people feel comfortable coming and working and just being together.”
It was during one of his own work hours, while he was weeding in a far corner of the garden, that Kenagy asked God what more they could be doing. His thoughts turned to sustainability and outreach, which eventually led to aquaponics.
He began researching it and attended a conference in Florida. Coming back, he proposed the project. It would be an experiment, to see if what they created in Grand Junction could be taught to volunteers and missionaries, who then would teach those growing methods to people in the Sudan, Kenya, Haiti and other areas where Canyon View supports missions.
Kenagy said he also hoped the aquaponics greenhouse could be a community resource, where others who are interested can learn alternative methods for their own Colorado gardens.
“We’re looking at creating a system that can be reproduced in a bathtub, barrels, whatever is available, especially in the third world,” Kenagy said. “It needs to be inexpensive and sustainable.”
An added bonus, he said, is that the fish can be eaten, too.
After building the greenhouse in February, volunteers moved a small aquaponics system they’d been testing in a church garage into the completed structure. In March, they began planting and now have two large systems growing, with a third planned to be in place by October.
And the plants are growing. The weekly lettuce harvests filled 15–20 quart bags, the basil is getting tall, the taro is thriving.
Outside the greenhouse, almost two dozen crops are pulling their nutrients from the carefully tended soil; inside, the plants are fed by fish.
And throughout the garden, volunteers are fed by simply being there and helping things grow, and knowing that God and Earth have provided.
The Canyon View Vineyard Church garden is at 736 24 1/2 Road, just south of the church’s main campus. For information, call 242-7970 or go to http://www.canyonviewgardens.com.