North Park farmer turns attention to fish

Mason Street operation in Victoria to hire low-income interns to learn aquaponics and food growth

Angela Moran and fellow farmer Jesse Brown

After seven years of quietly cultivating vegetables and raising chickens, Mason Street City Farm operator Angela Moran is ready to take her business to the next level.

By spring, she plans to delve into aquaponics – and she’s reaching out to the community, both for donations and with a unique offer.

“Aquaponics is so perfectly suited to the city,” said Moran, who leases a privately-owned, 1,000-square-metre lot in the North Park neighbourhood and sells her produce to local restaurants.

The concept of aquaponics links fish tanks and garden beds for the benefit of both.

In essence, it works this way: rainwater fills the fish tank; the fish water nourishes the plants and the garden beds recycle oxygenated water back to the fish.

It doesn’t require a lot of space and can be set up almost anywhere – including on concrete, Moran said. It also uses 90-per-cent less water than conventional farming, because it recirculates the water.

Building an aquaponics system isn’t a new idea for Moran, but the timing is finally right to get started.

“I was pregnant when I found out about aquaponics, but I had to step back,” she said.

About four years later, her daughter can now play in a fenced-in area between rows of veggies while Moran works.

She also just scored a three-year lease on the property.

“(Until now) it’s always been year-to-year. It’s a big victory … (because) it’s hard for you to make any significant business investment that can make you really good money, if you don’t have that security of tenure.”

Sitting just blocks from downtown, Mason Street City Farm has been in continuous cultivation since the 1980s.

With help from friend Jesse Brown, Moran plans to build the aquaponics system on her farm by next spring, and to hire four paid interns.

She’ll be reaching out to organizations like Our Place Society and the Intercultural Association for potential applicants, who will have to meet a low-income criteria to qualify.

“A big part about food justice and food sovereignty is changing who has access to the knowledge to grow food,” said Moran, who also teaches people how to grow their own food.

“The people that I’ve educated … are typically college graduates and retired people. It’s great … but we’re not going to see a change in the imbalance in our food system if we don’t change who has the knowledge.”

She hopes her interns will graduate with the skills to launch their own business.

“It doesn’t have to be this model,” she said.

“The possibilities of urban agriculture in the city are endless.”

As for her own business, Moran is toying between two types of fish – a tasty food fish named tilapia, or the heartier koi, a “hot commodity” among backyard pond owners.

She’s also contemplating various aquaponic system models.

“We’re trying to do it in a way that is economical and show that anybody could do it.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

Visit the farm, make a donation:

Check out the Mason Street City Farm (on Mason between Vancouver and Cook streets) during one of two open houses: this Sunday (Dec. 9) or Dec. 16 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Moran is trying to raise $12,500 to build the aquaponics system and pay the interns. To date, she has raised $4,200. Donors receive gifts ranging from seeds to greenhouses, depending on the size of donation. Read more or donate to the project at indiegogo.com/farmforthefuture.

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