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Sue Spray
Award Winning Woodworker  Artisan
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The story continued...In a seemingly unrelated event,I came across an interesting method of vegetable gardening while
home in America called aquaponics.  Aquaponics combines fish farming and vegetable gardening in a very small
space.  It is highly prolific and uses 1/10th the water needed for traditional vegetable gardening.  Fish are grown in a
small tank, they produce waste that is pumped by a small energy efficient water pump to grow beds that contain gravel
or other soil-less grow medium.  Beneficial bacteria in the grow bed material convert the fish waste to fertilizer the
plants use to grow and remove the toxins from the water.  The water is returned to the fish tank cleansed to re enter
the cycle again.  It’s organic, easy, fun and absolutely fascinating to do.  Further, it uses one tenth the water of
traditional soil gardening.  I sent information to Helen regarding this unique method of gardening and she was
immediately interested.  She asked if I would build an aquaponics garden on her property on Norfolk Island.  Being the
level headed, forward thinking, sustainability living, eco-minded individual she is, she challenged me to create a system
using components readily available on the island and construction methods the average person could do to build their
own aquaponics system.  She envisioned a method of food production tht anyone could do and was independant of
drought conditions. I love projects like this.  I rose to the challenge and developed a small system that grows a
phenomenal amount of food!  Our first crop was lettuce, bell peppers and strawberries.  We grew heads of lettuce
from 2” high seedlings to full size lettuce in 28 days!!  Our pepper plants which were 3” high at planting had numerous
flowers, golf ball sized peppers and stood 18” high in the same time frame.  There were no fresh water fish on the
island so we used organic fertilizer to get the system started and then later used guppies from a small pond near Helen’
s house.  AS it turned out, Norfolk Island experienced one of the worst droughts ever during this time.  Many people,
including the Minister of the Environment,  Hon. Vicki Jack, were taking notice of this novel method of agriculture and
aquaculture.

We were on to something!  Helen wanted to provide information to the island inhabitants.  She made a few phone calls
and we coordinated a seminar at one of the hotels to provide information on how to build their own system.  The turn
out was phenomenal.  We arranged tours for the seminar participants to see Helen’s system in action.  Helen’s home is
now part if an industry and agricultural tour on the island. People from many different countries have seen Helen’s
system.  I decided to continue to promote aquaponics both on Norfolk Island and back home in America.  On a
subsequent trip back to the island, we held a two day seminar teaching people how to build their own systems and built
a system for Norfolk Blue, a restaurant on the island.  My husband and I have given workshops here in America and
have built systems for other interested individuals.  We created a garden at the San Diego County Fair Home and
Garden Show and receive five of the top eight awards for our display.  We visit Norfolk Island regularly as many of
our new friends have become like family.  

We don’t know all of what the future holds, but we look forward with anticipation. In the immediate future, we hope
to work with the Norfolk Island government to bring in a species of edible fresh water fish to make the aquaponics a
really efficient food production system for them.  They are surrounded by ocean and fish is readily available there, but
the quantities have decreased due to over fishing as it has in all the oceans.  Additionally, the number of days the ocean
around Norfolk Island is calm enough to fish is limited.   An additional fresh fish source would be a boon to Norfolk
Island.

It really is amazing how an innocent inquiry to build a small memento for a deserving individual can lead to such
exciting and fun adventure. Some day I will write the story of how I came to become a woodworker and ultimately a
Luthier or one who builds stringed instruments.  In the mean time, I will continue to work with Helen and look for
ways to make life better for everyone.  Currently, I am working on projects that will assist veterinary students in
developing countries, building an aquaponics garden for a community garden in Orange County, give workshops and
lectures on aquaponics and generally keeping all the other balls in the air as well.  I love the life I lead and wouldn’t
trade it for anything.  I am extremely blessed and fortunate.  I know it, appreciate it and pay it forward as often as I
can.  I think that is the real secret to a quality life is that when opportunities present themselves, give as much of
yourself as you can to them.  The payback is immense and obligates more giving-a circle that is fulfilling and beneficial
for the greater good.  I like living like this.  It’s good for my soul and I’d like to think the lasting effects will leave the
world a better place. I hope this story inspires you to go for it if an opportunity presents itself.  You just never know
where it might lead!