A high school teacher and an aquaponics expert from North Texas are on the program at the Third National and International Urban and Small Farms Conference scheduled Nov. 7-9 in Milwaukee, Wis. Sponsored by Will Allen’s Growing Power, the three-day event will also feature a discussion between Allen and noted author Michael Pollan, of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” fame.
Pollan, whose latest book is entitled Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, will share the stage with Allen on Friday evening for a personalized discussion of the future of American food — the movement, the politics and social justice. The session is to be moderated by former Wisconsin public radio talk show host Jean Feraca.
Gay Bingham, agriculture and natural resources teacher at Seagoville High School in Dallas, and Adam Cohen, owner-founder of Green Phoenix Farms, an aquaponics systems design and consulting firm headquartered in Mansfield, Texas, will be part of a panel presentation at a breakout session on Saturday, Nov. 8. Their topic, “Microgreens, Aquaponics, and Education: Various Approaches to Year-Round Food Production and Curriculum for Schools” is a part of the “Farmers and Leaders of Tomorrow” Track at the conference, which is expected to draw upwards of 1,500 participants.
Plenary sessions on food policy, food justice and innovative food production techniques are planned for the weekend, as well numerous breakout sessions, small group seminars, workshops, tours and exhibits. Keynote addresses will be given by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D, Maine) and Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth.
Will Allen’s Growing Power was founded in 1993 in Milwaukee by the former pro-basketball player who wanted to find a way to “grow food, grow minds, and grow community.” His urban agricultural efforts have done that; the program has expanded to other locations in Wisconsin as well as to Chicago, and also operates satellite training centers in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Allen, who still serves as chief executive officer, has been honored on local, state and national levels for his efforts. Growing Power’s programs fall into three main areas: Projects and Growing Methods, Food Production and Distribution, and Education and Technical Assistance.
Locally, Green Phoenix Farms has been in the forefront of the trend toward integrating farms and gardens into local school curriculum, from elementary schools to the community college level. Working with Bingham at Seagoville High School, the firm has transformed unused greenhouse space into a soon-to-be-operational aquaponics production facility.
The system includes a 330-gallon fishtank and three large growing beds designed to accommodate a variety of produce. Students will manage the closed-loop food production system which depends on a balanced and symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. Aquaponic growing systems use only a fraction of the physical space, water and energy required for crops grown in traditional ways. Some visionaries view it as the food production model for the future.
Watch the video of an Aquaponics system at Mountain View College
Aquaponics is moving from the realm “of the experimental to the commercial,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Part of its appeal is that systems can be designed for backyard gardeners, hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts, as well as for large commercial growers. The custom systems can also be designed primarily to supply produce, or to provide fish. Indoor systems as well as outdoor facilities enjoy success in various locations and widely varied climatic conditions in this country and throughout the world.
Dallas-Fort Worth residents interested in learning more about the field of aquaponics are invited to a public “gathering” the first Saturday of each month at the Green Phoenix office/seminar facility in Mansfield. The company maintains several demonstration systems at their location, and offers short introductory tours from 9 to 11 a.m. There is no charge.