Bishop Paiute Elders Community Garden and Aquaponics Project, Bishop CA


Keith Glidewell, coordinator for the Bishop Paiute Elders Community Garden and aquaponics project. Photo by Angelo Baca

Keith Glidewell, coordinator for the Bishop Paiute Elders Community Garden and aquaponics project. Photo by Angelo Baca

The next town over from the Big Pine Paiute are the Bishop Paiute Tribe, in Bishop CA. With 2,000 enrolled members, they are the 5th largest tribe in CA, headquartered on an 875 acre reservation at the foot of the East Sierra Nevada Mountains. We met with Keith Glidewell, a project coordinator for the Owens Valley Career Development Center’s Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) , and the coordinator for the Elders Community Garden and aquaponics project behind the Bishop Tribal Elders Building. Keith described his job as writing programs that assist families and support local community issues, like food security, food sovereignty, and food preservation. Keith realized that in a “resort town like Bishop,” healthy, pesticide-free, locally grown food is often not affordable for tribal members. So first he established the garden behind the elders center, leveling the ground, building raised beds and creating woodchip walkways through a series of community events. The food from the garden was then utilized in the kitchen at the elders’ center.

Elders community Garden. Photo by Angelo Baca

Elders community Garden. Photo by Angelo Baca

As we discussed in the Big Pine Paiute post, water is scarce in this region, and was becoming less available to irrigate the garden. Keith had been irrigating from the local creek, but that would periodically dry up. He also began thinking about how to grow food in the wintertime. With the help of the Toiyabe Indian Health Project’s Preventive Medicine Department, they were able to establish a greenhouse. Inside the greenhouse, inspired by Sylvia Bernstein’s material, Keith decided to set up an aquaponics growing system, that would keep water within a closed loop.

community garden and greenhouse. Photo by Angelo Baca

Community garden and greenhouse, which houses the aquaponics project.  The food from the garden is used in the elders lunch program. Photo by Angelo Baca

Seeds are started in grow trays before they're transplanted into the clay ball medium in the bins. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Seeds are started in grow trays before they’re transplanted into the clay ball medium in the bins. Photo by Keith Glidewell

A pump pulls water from the fish tank and pours it into beds filled with porous clay balls. After they fill, the nutrients from the fish waste nourishing the plant roots, bell siphons drain the water out and send it back to the fish tanks. It is a symbiotic system; the fish bi-products are broken down by nitrogen-fixing bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are then utilized by the plants as nutrients. The fish in turn are not poisoned by their own waste, an issue in aquaculture. Because the water is constantly recirculating, aquaponics systems use 1/10 the water of comparable soil based gardening.

Photo by Angelo Baca

Heat shields (upper left) keep the greenhouse from getting too hot in the summer. Photo by Angelo Baca

The grow medium for the plants is tiny clay balls. Water drips into the growing bin via those white pipes on the left. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

The grow medium for the plants is tiny clay balls. Water drips into the growing bin via those white pipes on the left. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

Squash, tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, carrots and peppers were planted in the boxes. Water is run from the fish tank, through the grow boxes where it is filters, and then sent back to the fish tanks. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

400 gallon tank that houses the baby tilapia. They buried the tank in the soil to keep the water temperature down in the summer. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

400 gallon tank that houses the baby tilapia. They buried the tank in the soil to keep the water temperature down in the summer. Photo by Elizabeth Hoover

The project is raising tilapia because they’re a hardy fish variety. Brown trout are a popular local variety, but they prefer cold water (around 50 degrees) and are very sensitive to swings in the ph of the water, and so all of the trout that they initially tried in the tanks died right away. Tilapia are the fish of choice for most aquaponics projects because they can tolerate swings in ph and temperature.

Greenhouse aquaponic projects. Photo by Angelo Baca

Greenhouse aquaponic projects. Photo by Angelo Baca

One of the main challenges in starting this new project has been getting the necessary work done while creating an environment which is safe and organized for families and elders to help with the gardening and the fish. Keith acknowledges that people like the idea of community gardens and locally grown food, but sometimes recruiting labor can be difficult for jobs like digging trenches, hauling rocks, installing irrigation systems, and pulling weeds. In planting 50 fruit trees on the site, he rented an auger to dig the holes (which would have been difficult for elders), and then had them assist with placing the trees into the holes. But the aquaponics project, only in its first year, has proven to be popular with the community as an efficient and interesting means of producing food.

Pouring the foundation for the greenhouse. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Pouring the foundation for the greenhouse. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Building the greenhouse frame. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Building the greenhouse frame. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Assembling the system. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Assembling the system. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Inspecting the fish. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Inspecting the fish. Photo by Keith Glidewell

Categories: hydroponics/aquaponics, West Coast (CA, OR, WA)Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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