Let’s get growing with aquaponics

Rick Kenagy gets up each day asking himself two questions: What am I going to grow today? Who am I going to teach to grow food today?

Kenagy, 56, understands the urgency of these questions and it’s his passion to help create backyard farming communities.

Although Kenagy farms 365 days a year, he has little dirt under his fingernails and no sore muscles from stooping and pulling weeds. The aquaponics concepts he teaches locally and nationwide are wowing newcomers as well as those who have been gardening for years.

Our food production future

“I’ve made food production my mission, as growing food is going to be a necessity for everyone,” said Kenagy. “According to a UN report, by 2030 there will be nine billion people in the world and we will have to produce 70 percent more food than we do right now to support them.”

He believes the solution is more backyard gardens—more specifically, aquaponics gardens. Rooftops, sheds, basements, sides of buildings, warehouses and greenhouses can all be used for aquaponics gardening.
A one-time cost of a $200-700, depending on the size, makes it an affordable option.

Kenagy has been managing the Canyon View Vineyard Church Community Garden for eight years. Six years ago, he added an aquaponics greenhouse and doubled the garden’s annual food production from 10,000 pounds a year to 20,000 pounds.

“Our motto is ‘Growing food and community, one seed, one relationship at a time,’” said Kenagy. “Aquaponics has been around a long time but is fairly new in the U.S. It was our answer to how we could extend our growing season year-round.”

Living on the Western Slope makes locals especially aware of how precious water is. Aquaponics is one way to better use water to grow food.

What is aquaponics?

According to Kenagy, aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil), and grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish create waste, which becomes fertilizer for the plants. Plants take up the nutrients and filter the water that returns to the fish.

Kenagy primarily raises koi and tilapia, but other types of fish, such as bass and trout, can be used as well.

Almost any variety of vegetable can be grown this way—bok choy, kale, carrots, beets, spinach, lettuce, herbs, green beans, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, to name a few.

“All methods used are organic,” said Kenagy.

Growing a mission

“When we started [at the community garden], we had no clue about aquaponics,” said Kenagy. “I studied, did research and went to seminars. Our original goal of turning one dollar’s worth of seed into 200 pounds of food was all we thought we’d be. Now we’re able to expand our goal, produce more food year-round and use the garden as a hands-on, community experience.”

Canyon View Vineyard’s garden has become an educational center for grade school children, seniors, veterans, Strive clients, R-5 and Colorado Mesa University students, a large group of community volunteers and more.

Kenagy recently started Waters Edge 365, a nonprofit dedicated to being more intentional about agriculture community development and training. Living Hope Church on Orchard Mesa created its own community garden with his help.

He also started GroFresh 365, LLC, through which he is helping commercial and small-system aquaponics startups on the Western Slope and beyond.

He is developing three more large farm production facilities in the Grand Valley, and recently spent two weeks mentoring an aquaponics farm in Georgia for veteran therapy. He’s even talked to several corrections facilities that may start inmate aquaponics farming programs.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if communities came together to raise food?” said Kenagy. “We have to teach kids how to grow food. It’s their future.”

For more information, call Kenagy at 234-8572.

Melanie Wiseman

Melanie Wiseman

Melanie Wiseman is passionate about writing and loves sharing the stories of family, love, volunteering and adventure of the people she interviews. Raised in Wisconsin, she has called western Colorado home for more than 30 years. She loves traveling, reading, photography, hiking, camping, biking, cross-country skiing and exploring the outdoors with her husband, Dan, and Papillon, Abby.
Melanie Wiseman

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