It is no secret that I’ve been enjoying organic gardening the last couple of years. We’ve successfully grown tomatoes, carrots, onions, zucchini squash, peppers, broccoli and spinach. We’ve had limited success with berries and sweet potatoes but still working on those.
We are big proponents of the urban farming, local, organic food movement and we use Urban Acres, a CSA for our locally grown produce. Our industrial food system utilizes 10 calories of energy (mostly fossil fuel) to produce one calorie of food and we transport the food thousands of miles before it reaches our table. Agriculture accounts for approximately 80 percent of U.S. water usage. With increasing population, energy costs and extended drought conditions our current food production system is not sustainable long term.
As I started researching the urban farming movement I stumbled into Aquaponics and it piqued my interest. Wikipedia defines Aquaponics as a sustainable food production system that combines conventional aquaculture, (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks), with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by nitrogen-fixing bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients. The water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.
By its nature, aquaponics is organic. Introducing any non-organic material into the system will be a detriment to the fish or the plants. The “closed loop” system recycles water and therefore uses roughly 10% of the water compared to soil based agriculture. Due to the smaller footprint required aquaponics can be combined with greenhouse gardening and increase production drastically. The fish can also be harvested for fresh tilapia on your table each week.
Last week I took an intro to aquaponics class from Green Phoenix Aquaponics and plan to build my first two-barrel aquaponics system this week.
Of course with any hobby I always start to consider how I can turn it into a business. For now I’ll keep it as a hobby but who knows that the future has in store for us. Maybe becoming an urban farmer selling our goods at the local farmers market?