Community Aquaponics Discussions, Theme #1: Community Involvement
In the first post of this series, we described what we mean by “Community Aquaponics”. In this post, we talk about the first of three themes identified by the Community breakout discussion groups at our 2018 Hartford conference.
By Tawnya Sawyer
Getting the community involved in building and operating a garden and aquaponic system can be a challenge. Since aquaponics requires continuous involvement to monitor the equipment, feed the fish and maintain the plants, it is critical to have a key person take the lead on these management activities. Often people that are excited to get started, may have a difficult time committing long term. Community volunteers can assist in maintaining the system, but without a strong lead, the system will be neglected. Some of the tactics discussed that have been implemented with success at various community aquaponic projects include:
- Planning for and hiring a project lead or champion to manage the construction of the system. That same person(s) may also then be involved in daily operations once the system is up and running. There are examples of both paid and unpaid positions, ut the key is to ensure that some takes that ownership and responsibility. It is also necessary that they have the time and energy to commit to the necessary tasks.
- Having a schedule, training and management of volunteers was necessary to ensure that everyone was participating, following food safety guidelines and working effectively together. Volunteer and intern activities were commonly coordinated by the farm manager person.
- Having a means to get food or training to the community being served is necessary to meet people where they are. This has meant providing cooking classes, free samples, recipes, alternate forms of payment, different ways to pickup or deliver the food products, building trust and connections, and helping people value the quality of the food. Working with a community who has previously not had access to nutritious food is a learning curve and takes times to implement.
Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association