Here is the story about 500 Gardens:


If all goes according to plan, there will be 500 vegetable-producing gardens in Madisonville this spring.

Organizers of the 500 Gardens Project want to make sure nobody has to walk further than their own yard to taste vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. Without a car, many residents cannot get to a grocery store easily.

The goal is that one in ten households plant a garden with the help of volunteers.


Karen Zanger, Matt Strauss Sara Sheets, Cheryl Worrell - 500 Gardens in Madisonville

500 Gardens in Madisonville, Karen Zanger, Matt Strauss Sara Sheets, Cheryl Worrell

MADISONVILLE — Gardening enthusiasts, break out your trowel.  A project called “500 Gardens” is underway in Madisonville.

“If you have dirt, sun and water, you can grow a garden,” said Karen Zanger, coordinator of 500 Gardens.

The 500 Gardens project is being spearheaded by Sidestreams, a nonprofit organization focused on urban agriculture.

Zanger said the project is geared toward providing food in an area where residents do not have access to a grocery store with a wide range of items. These areas are often referred to as “food deserts” because of the lack of available food options.

First there were the pioneers at the New Alchemy Institute who started raising Tilapia in swimming pools in greenhouses.
Recently there is interesting work by Will Allen at Growing Power, SweetWater Organics, Nelson & Pade, Murray Hallam in Australia, and James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands.

Aquaponics, or growing vegetables and fish in symbiotic sustainability makes good intuitive sense- the fish provide fertilizer for the plants, and the plants clean and aerate the water for the fish.

Sidestreams built a test and demonstration system at the Lighthouse Community School in Madisonville in the spring of 2013. (pictures) Water was pumped from a 200 gallon fish tank (made from a recycled Tote) to a gravel bed (a twelve inch tote top) which flushed and flowed back to the fish tank connected by a 4 x 8 “deep water” bed with floating raft beds.

With cold weather coming we knew that the system would not work over the winter. Steve K took the deep water components and Steve R took the gravel bed back to their respective garages. There, with the amused toleration of their spouses, they continue to experiment with raising fish and plants over the 2013-14 winter.

Steve K has built and is operating a vermi-aquaponics process in his garage. What is vermi-aquaponics?? Aquaponics that grows worms are a food source for the fish.

Three components make a vermi-aquaponics process:

  1. “vermi-“ for vermiculture or vermi-composting is a method to recycle food waste. Composting worms and soil microbes reduce organic materials to their basic nutrients. These are collected in the form of worm “castings.”
  2. “aqua-“ short for aquaculture, which is fish. In our process the fish waste products contain almost all of the nutrients that the plants we grow need for healthy growth. Our fish are yellow perch, which are a cold water carnivore, high in omega-3 fatty acids, and also high in protein-to-waste ratio.
  3. “-ponics” short for “hydroponics”, which is the process of growing vegetables or other plants in nutrient and oxygen rich circulating water. Our process is called “DWC” or Deep Water Culture, which consists of rigid foam rafts floating on the 6” deep pool. The rafts hold 2” pots in which the plants grow up and the roots grow into the water. We are currently growing a variety of leafy vegetables that typically make up a “mesclun mix” for salads.

Two primary features of this process are

  1.  The harvests are truly fresh year round,
  2.  We can adjust the product mix quickly to respond to customer requests, since these crops grow to harvest size in 8 to 12 weeks.

Fish like worms: Worms are high protein and nutrients for the fish.

Plants like worm castings and worm casting tea: Worm waste, or castings, along with the composted soil, are collected, aged, and then used to make an extract “tea”, which is added to the aquaponics water. This is a great way to add macro and micro nutrients for the plants.

This is a rather complex ecosystem harnessing the natural processes of plants, fish, worms, and microbes. While it is complicated to explain, it is easy to maintain, and it provides a great environment to grow healthy, fresh produce and fish. Complexity in ecology adds stability and as importantly, virtually eliminates the need to add synthetic nutrients for plant growth.

Our intent with the garage system is to initially demonstrate the process concept and environmental sustainability inherent in a vermi-aquaponics system. And to learn a lot. Because we believe that this process and products are a natural fit for urban areas, our longer term goals include locating a structure, building and operating a commercial size operation in Cincinnati.

University of Virgin Islands
Nelson and Pade
Will Allen and Growing Power
New Alchemy
Sweet Water Organics
Murray Hallam. Practical Aquaponics

Gardens in MadisonvilleGoal – by Summer 2014 have 500 gardens growing food in Madisonville

Strategy – provide a combination of encouragement, education, equipment, materials, and coordinated volunteers to ensure that everyone who wants to grow food has a place and the means to do so successfully.

Tactics – encourage homeowners, churches, businesses, and apartments to build gardens and grow food. Provide materials, tools, and volunteers to help as needed. Develop and present classes on a variety of topics related to fresh food production and consumption.

Find out more information about 500 Gardens in Madisonville and how you can participate- click here