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Camp of the Hills growing for the future

Camp of the Hills aquaponics center

Camp of the Hills Director Michael Thames hopes to expand the camp’s aquaponics system so that it can one day help feed the hundreds of campers each summer and even provide financial revenue. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Things are growing at Camp of the Hills this summer, including tilapia and pomegranates.

Director Michael Thames, staff, and counselors have had a busy spring and early summer keeping up with the abundance of fruits and vegetables as well as the 90 or so tilapia and perch in the camp’s gardens and orchard.

Inside Camp of the Hills’ aquaponics center, Thames explained how the system works and its purpose. 

Everything starts with a large, black fish tank.

“The idea of aquaponics is the fish waste basically runs through the four beds and gives the plants the nutrients to grow,” he said. The water, filtered by the plants, returns to the fish tank. “One of the benefits of aquaponics is it uses less water, about 90 percent less than ground gardening.”

The camp’s foray into gardening serves two purposes: food and education.

Camp of the Hills, 1552 CR 344 in Marble Falls, offers a summer camp experience for underprivileged youths from rural and urban areas, often partnering with churches and nonprofits.

“The real purpose of this is outdoor education,” said Thames, referring to the aquaponics center as well as the camp’s orchard, ground gardens, and pollinator gardens. “We can bring kids in and talk about ecosystems, talk to them about growing things.

“And, of course, the kids get to come in and pick stuff that they get to eat later,” he added.

Thames said Camp of the Hills is also looking at bringing in schoolchildren during the year for lessons on the outdoors.

“There are so many great educational lessons but also so many great spiritual ones,” Thames said. “Kids get to see how God works, taking a little seed and growing it into these plants.”

Produce from the gardens and orchard also supply the camp’s kitchen to feed the young summer guests. Camp of the Hills will host a limited number of overnight campers in July.

Thames, however, sees a grander future.

“Our vision is to create a commercial-size (aquaponics) system,” he said. 

That vision also includes possibly enlarging or adding traditional gardens and orchard space, partnering with community organizations such as The Helping Center of Marble Falls to support its food pantry, and selling produce through an on-site farmers market.

As Thames strolled through the camp’s orchard of fruit trees, berry plants, and melon vines, he stopped to look at it.

“Yeah, it’s pretty incredible what God does,” he said, “and we’re glad to be part of his plan.”