Not far from the raised garden beds growing leafy greens will be a worm farm that creates compost. Next to that, egg-laying chickens will roam freely.
At the center of the urban farm, a state-of-the-art aquaponics operation will soon be running.
Known as Project Growth, the urban farm just minutes from downtown Fort Worth is flourishing. The farm is an initiative of Feed by Grace, a nonprofit organization that ministers to the homeless. Not quite 2 years old, Project Growth trains and employs homeless people to grow organic vegetables, make compost and install gardens around the community.
On Saturday, community members and gardening enthusiasts toured the new aquaponics operation, built by Green Phoenix Farms.
“This started as just a way to create jobs for the homeless,” said Neale Mansfield, executive director of Feed by Grace. “But when people heard about the opportunity to get organic vegetables grown by homeless folks, they got interested.”
The aquaponics operation is a partnership of Feed by Grace and Green Phoenix Farms, which specializes in aquaponic systems design, education and training across North Texas.
Housed in a greenhouse, the system will enable Project Growth farmers to grow vegetables year-round.
In aquaponics, fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, which in turn filter the water where the fish live. The technology uses only about 10 percent of the water used in traditional soil gardening, said Adam Cohen, who started Green Phoenix Farms about six years ago after becoming inspired by the technology’s potential.
In drought-stricken Texas, he said, aquaponics could be the future for gardening.
“This movement is growing fast,” said Cohen, who lives in Mansfield. “Aquaponics has the potential to make food production local. We could grow more food in our back yards, down the street or on rooftops.”
Feed by Grace’s operation will involve 200 to 300 pounds of striped bass, a 1,500-gallon fish tank and roughly 5,000 gallons of water that will cycle in and out.
Green Phoenix Farms will use the aquaponics facility for public tours and education, as well as to collect data on growing fruits and vegetables in the tricky North Texas climate.
“This could eventually be a source of food, a source of employment and a source of pride,” said Cohen’s mother, Adrienne Cohen, who helps with the business.
This spring, the worm farm – made possible by a grant from TCU – will open, with chickens planned next.
For now, Project Growth sells its fruits and vegetables through word of mouth and an email distribution list, but Feed by Grace is considering selling the produce through other means, including partnerships with area churches.
“We’re growing much faster than we thought,” Mansfield said, “So we will be looking for new customers.”