DAVIS, Calif. — More and more people are talking about the global food crisis that will only worsen in the coming decades due to growing populations and climate change. These conversations surround the causes and implications of the issue, but people want to hear most about the available solutions. One solution that is still in its grassroots form of advocacy is aquaponics, which offers a practical, sustainable method for people living in all different types of societies.
Aquaponics is a method of growing food in a greenhouse built around a self-sustaining ecosystem where plants feed fish and the fish feed plants. Essentially, it is the marriage of hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) and aquaculture (the farming of aquatic organisms.)
The layout of an aquaponic greenhouse is typically solar-powered although it requires little energy. A viewer will spot raised beds of vegetables growing close to tubs filled with water and fish.
Tilapia is most common since they mature quickly to harvest size. The vegetable beds fill and drain on a regulated schedule with nutrient-rich water from the fish tubs. Most of the aquaponic activity is closed off, however, and requires very little interference to function properly.
Aquaponics is innovative for a number of reasons. First off, the entire concept breaks from conventional agriculture by requiring very little space and energy, and involves the cultivation of diverse plants rather than one crop in large quantities. The efficient atmosphere is a form of biomimicry that allows fruits and vegetables to be grown and harvested all year round as well, unaffected by seasonal changes.
The philosophy behind aquaponics is simple: more food grown in less space, using less energy and less water. The overall concept sounds a little utopian, but experts in food growth and energy systems insist that it is well within the reach of people all over the world.
Charlie Price is a biomass energy expert and scientist with Aquaponics United Kingdom working on a new project to expand the practice. “We wanted to create a model to produce food in a low input way, but to do so in a building that required very little energy. ” explained Price in a piece run by the Guardian. “Ultimately it’s nothing new, it’s a combination of existing technologies put together in a structure.”
Price is currently working with Kate Humble, a TV presenter who runs the UK’s first aquaponic farm in Wales on a 117 acre patch of land. Humble began her project and started her company, Humble by Nature, after hearing the same patch of land she now operates on was considered too small to be useful or profitable by a food bank representative. Not only has she proven them wrong, Humble has also revealed through her actions that aquaponic farming is accessible and should be a bigger focus in science and academia.
As a matter of fact, the aquaponic movement is surprisingly limited to isolated individual efforts that take place anywhere between an experimental farm in Wales to a family’s backyard in Marysville, Missouri.
Charlie Bowen is a father who has been growing food for his family with his aquaponic greenhouse in his backyard for three years in Marysville. Charlie’s home system is drastically smaller than Humble’s and only produces enough to feed a family of four. Charlie’s family consists of him, his wife Teresa, and their daughter, Lonia ,who they adopted from a family in Haiti who could not support her special medical needs.
Bowen’s experience with Haiti and success with aquaponics have naturally brought him to the conclusion that these small-scale growing methods can be brought to communities abroad. “The ultimate goal of fine-tuning aquaponics is to go back over to Haiti and teach families like Lonia’s how to do this,” Bowen said. “Then they could provide for themselves and maybe even have other produce and fish to sell at market.”
The future of aquaponics seems bright as the trend slowly catches on with people who have the power to change food systems. Robert Gager, director of the Shepherd’s Heart food pantry in Waco, Texas, is turning to aquaponics as a solution to summertime food shortages that affect the 40,000 families they feed each year.
Gager is collaborating with a local engineer on the first prototype installment that will serve as a showcase example before moving onto a large installment on the Texas State Technical College campus. Shepherd’s heart hopes to grow enough food on less than five acres of land to feed around 2,000 people each month.
– Edward Heinrich