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UTA student works to show others nature’s way

Citizen-Journal/Terry Evans

Chowgene Koay examines one of his home aquaponics units. by:Citizen-Journal/Terry Evans

Posted Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

By: Patrick M. Walker


Chowgene Koay wants to teach others how to live more in tune with nature.

The University of Texas at Arlington student has built two aquaponics units on his back patio in which he grows cabbage, spinach, squash and Swiss chard. He and his friends have dug out a swale in his back yard to harvest rainwater for a garden that contains broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard and lemongrass.

On Saturday, he’ll lead a demonstration on how to assemble an aquaponics unit at the Arlington Downtown Farmers Market from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The UTA Environmental Society and other groups will also participate.

“All it’s about is showing people what’s possible,” he said. “We can re-create these ecosystems. We can live with nature.”

Aquaponics is a self-sustainable system that combines fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics).

“By combining the plants and fish, you obtain a system where there is no such thing as waste,” he said. “The fish effluent is used as plant fertilizer, which returns the water back to the fish in a continuous cycle.

“Anybody can do this at home.”

For about five years, Koay, 23, has studied self-sustainability, permaculture, food forestry, mushroom cultivation and more. He and friends formed a grassroots organization called Community Cultivators.

“We’re dispersed in Texas and share our intel and projects with each other online,” he said.

He seeks to work with groups like River Legacy Parks, the Arlington Conservation Council and the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

“I’m trying to connect people who are interested in creating an alternative way of life,” he said.

His own aquaponics units remain works in progress. On one, the pump used to circulate the water is now plugged into a wall outlet. But he has solar panels that he will soon use to power the unit instead. He also plans to replace the goldfish he’s using now with catfish.

The demonstration Saturday “is just a short-term project to get people used to the idea of working with nature and ecological concepts,” he said.

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