Creative, Sustainable Food in Avondale
Troy Frasier with a young gardener
By Julie Irwin Zimmerman, October 30, 2012
Troy Frasier, a former Peace Corps volunteer with farming experience, had never heard of aquaponics before he began work at Gabriel’s Place in the place matters neighborhood of Avondale.
Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines raising fish and growing plants.
When Frasier learned about the system, he thought it made perfect sense for Gabriel’s Place, a multipurpose center that opened last year with community gardens, community kitchen and weekly farmer’s market. Frasier was looking for more ways to advance the place matters goal of increasing health and wellness in a neighborhood known as a food desert.
The aquaponics system he set up this year is one of the first of its kind in the region. At its base sits a 2,000-gallon tank dug in the ground and filled with bluegill fish. Wastewater from the fish tank is pumped to two long beds of gravel constructed above the tank. Bacteria living in the gravel convert the waste to fertilizer that supports crops like arugula and lettuce that grow right in the gravel. Any water not taken up by the plants is returned, filtered and clean, to the fish tank.
“It’s a very delicate balance,” says Frasier, who worked at Gabriel’s Place as an AmeriCorps member before becoming the center’s Program Director. “If there’s too much of any one element, or not enough, the system will crash and you’ll have dead fish or the plants will start dying.”
Frasier’s already had one system collapse, though this version appears to be thriving, and he hopes to start a second system with 200 tilapia donated by hobbyist and LISC Program Officer Brandon Holmes.
The full aquaponics system at Gabriel’s Place
About 200 bluegills live in a huge tank below the plants
Watercress, which has peppery-tasting leaves, in gravel beds
Gabriel’s Place is achieving sustainability in other ways too. After neighborhood residents dreamed of growing fruit on the land, the center won a grant from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati to plant an orchard of 20 to 30 fruit trees. Beehives amid the trees will help with pollination, and ducks and geese will fertilize the trees and eventually provide meat for the soup kitchen and community dinners.
The farmer’s market at Gabriel’s Place continues to grow, with EBT machines and year-round hours to increase the access neighbors have to its fresh produce. A hoop house covered in thick plastic will allow the center to grow crops all winter long, and a chicken coop is under construction to provide eggs for the market. All the efforts will eventually yield vegetables, fruit, fowl, fish, eggs and honey–the building blocks of a sustainable, healthy diet–all raised in one spot.