The humid scent of ripe tomatoes inside the Mason Street Farm greenhouse is a comforting reprieve from the dreary October day outside.
At knee level, a bubbling stream of water entrances dozens of koi and goldfish in a homemade pond as they await their next meal.
“The fish provide the nutrients for the plants we’re growing,” says Jesse Brown, who along with farm partner Angela Moran built a commercial-scale aquaponics system inside the greenhouse last June.
Above the fish are long troughs filled with porous pumice stones, while sprouting green leaves and vines push their way up towards the greenhouse’s opaque roof.
The process is a closed-loop water system that allows farmers to grow plants and vegetables without soil and recycles more than 90 per cent of the collected rainwater. Fish excrement provides necessary nutrients to the plants, and the resulting plant run-off is then pumped back into the water tank carrying bacterial nutrients for the fish.
“It’s the same water being recycled over and over again, which is incredible for a farmer,” says Moran. “It addresses the problems we have to feed people in the city. You can build a system like this right on top of concrete. You don’t need soil.”
To take the final leap in their off-the-grid enterprise, Moran and Brown need to install a solar panel system at the farm.
To help pay for the new installation, the duo is teaming up with the Island Chefs Collaborative for a “farm-raiser” on Nov. 9 at Odd Fellows Hall. Dubbed Boots ‘n’ Suits, the culinary experience costs $85 and requires patrons to show up in their finest semi-formal attire in rubber work boots.
Moran and Brown also hope to raise enough money to continue a paid internship program and pass on their skills to a new generation of urban farmers.
“People in the community can come and learn about how to build (an aquaponics system) and then build their own at home,” Brown says.
The duo is working on a home-scale aquaponics system that could potentially support consumable fish, like tilapia, using nothing more than a rain barrel, water pump, planting beds and an efficient heating system.
“A massive amount of food can be grown in a small space, and that’s what people want,” Moran says. “We’re learning as we go, but we’re offering something pretty unique in Victoria.”
Find tickets to the fundraiser at bootsnsuits.eventbrite.com.
Discover more about Mason Street Farm at masonstreetfarm.com.