Waco Food Pantry Plans to Grow Food, Fish with Aquaponic System - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Waco Food Pantry Plans to Grow Food, Fish with Aquaponic System

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(KCEN) – A local food pantry is turning to nature to help feed needy families. They hope to start farming food to give and sell with a system called aquaponics.

It's a pretty simple concept: basically a garden in a fish tank.

"This whole thing is like growing on steroids,” said Robert Gager, director of Shepherd’s Heart in Waco. "It'll just be a continuous cycle, fish feeding plants, plants feeding fish."

It’s a way for Gager to beef up resources for the food pantry.

"At this particular time of the year, in the summer, every year we see a drop in food availability," Gager said.

And they're feeding a lot of families -- nearly 40,000 of them last year. “That's a lot of food,” he said, “1.3 million pounds."

Gager is partnering with a local engineer to help the system grow into reality.

"It's just the concept of doing something with very little and producing a lot,” said Dr. Michael Kemp, an engineer and former Hewitt mayor.

The plants grow in gravel in plastic tubs. Water is pumped through the system, and back into a fish tank. It’s a symbiotic way to grow fruits, veggies and protein.

“Perpetual motion,” Kemp said. “I like to think of it that way: It's something that starts and doesn't stop."

Right now they're still in the prototype phase. Kemp is building a test model in his back yard in Hewitt, using some materials donated by a Baylor student working on aquaponics.

"We're going to use that as a typical showcase to show people how it's done," he said. Then they move on to the big installment on TSTC’s campus.

They hope to plant by the fall, and harvest just two months later.

Shepherd’s Heart hopes to be able to grow enough food on three or four acres to feed 2,000 people every month.

They plan to sell about half of that at farmer's markets to help fund other programs, and give the other half away.

Part of Kemp’s role is to make sure that’s possible. “It's to make it better, to do it more efficiently. And that's my challenge,” he said.

It's already a very efficient system. Aquaponics creates its own ecosystem that grows plants and fish very quickly.

It's a closed system that requires just a fifth of the water needed for conventional growing.

“In this state we're always going from rags to riches with our water supply,” said Gager. “We need to be able to control our resources."

Gager figures they can get 10 to 15 harvests per year from the system.

"Once we get the systems built,” he said, “we won't put any more money into it."

It's very low-maintenance, and to add on another growing pod, "it's just a matter of adding some plumbing and adding another section to it."

They also plan to raise chickens so they can provide fresh eggs.

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