FUTURE FOOD: The co-ordinator of the Coffs Regional Community Garden Matthew Downie hopes others are inspired by the potential of aquaponics.
FUTURE FOOD: The co-ordinator of the Coffs Regional Community Garden Matthew Downie hopes others are inspired by the potential of aquaponics.

Community gardens pioneers aquaponics

GUINEA pigs, fish and plants sustaining each other and sustaining people - it's a revolutionary combination being put to the test at the Coffs Regional Community Garden (CRCG).

They are key elements of the new aquaponics system which is set to change the way people think about food production.

Former CRCG president Steve McGrane wrote the submission which secured a $5000 NRMA Community programs grant for the system, and then worked with CRCG co-ordinator Matthew Downie to bring his vision to a sustainable fruition.

"Current standard aquaponics systems rely primarily on fish foods that are derived from wild caught fish by-products," Steve said.

"The conversion of this food into new fish is seven kilograms of these pellets to one kilogram of new fish meat produced. It's very inefficient and completely non-sustainable, and so we were challenged to come up with an alternative."

Unbelievably, the solution is found adjacent to the aquaponics system in the form of a herd of organically fed guinea pigs.

"Guinea pig droppings make perfect fish pellets and are composed of partially broken down vegetables, grains, herbs and grass, making them almost odourless, nutrient packed, easily digested and most

appreciated by the fish," Steve said.

Their contribution only came once the system of tanks, pumps, pipes and grow beds had been set up with long-term garden members, electrician Steve Sloan installing the solar panels, battery bank and regulator to make the entire system fully stand alone, and plumber Steve Leighton connecting a rainwater catchment tank from the roof of the grow house to make for easy topping up of the system with fresh rainwater when required.

Now there are three tanks destined to contain bronze and silver perch and catfish; three gravel beds producing vegies and herbs and a sump growing yabbies and mussels and supporting a floating lettuce raft.

Add in a trellis supporting climbing beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, warrigal greens and Ceylon spinach, and the garden is not just abundant but increasingly self-sufficient.

"It's the most compact food production system you can get," Matthew said.

"It is the perfect balance of inputs and outputs, it's extremely efficient in terms of water use and the set up can be largely built from recycled materials."

Anyone interested in finding out more is welcome to visit the Coffs Regional Community Gardens.

It is open to members and guests on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am to 3.30pm and Sundays from 10am to 2pm. Go to www.CoffsCommunityGardens.org.au.

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