There is a increasing interest as more and more people discover the growing potential of aquaponics. With every tour we do, with every lettuce we sell, people are recognizing and understanding the importance of where our food comes from and how it is grown. Aquaponics is an ecosystem. By constructing a balanced habitat that supports fish, plants, microbes and bacteria, skilled aquaponic farmers can produce leafy greens, vegetables and fruits in up to half the time of conventional agriculture and use up to 95% less water. This is especially attractive to many given concerns around accessibility to safe, chemical and GMO free food and climate change.
How exactly does aquaponics work?
As previously mentioned, aquaponics is an ecosystem. The construction of the system is designed to create a balanced habitat where plants, fish, microbes can flourish in a controlled climate. Highly oxygenated water is circulated throughout fish tanks and plant beds. Here, microbes, bacteria and fungus work in partnership to convert the ammonia (found in the fish waste) and convert it to nitrogen for the plants to use while also making other vital minerals and nutrients available for plants to access and utilize.
How is aquaponics different from hydroponics?
Aquaponics is a living system and employs natural biological processes. The interdependency on the fish, plants and microbes are what make this system truly organic. Hydroponics however, relies on adding in fertilizers and nutrients that are often calibrated to specific crop. Often, these additives are not organic and utilize synthetic and fossil fertilizers. When they are added to the water, the plants take them up to grow in a more sterilized environment. Eventually, the water turns bad and is discharged. Fresh water is replaced and the process is repeated.
Is it safe?
We get a lot of questions asking if aquaponics is a safe way to grow food. We have all heard about E-coli outbreaks and recalls that are cause for concern. What most people do not realize is that warm blooded animals, such as cows and horses, carry E-coli in their system, but cold blooded animals, such as fish, do not. Many farms growing conventionally use manure from warm blooded animals to help fertilize the soil. This can become a point of contamination. By growing produce aquaponically, the risk of E-coli contamination from a fertilizer source is virtually eliminated. Wind River Produce follows Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) as defined by the USDA to ensure that other points of contamination are substantially minimized or eradicated. The National Organic Standards Board (NSOB) and the USDA also recognize that aquaponic farms can be organically certified.
How is it sustainable?
Given that plants have the water and nutrients that they need when the need it and are growing in their ideal temperate conditions, the growing time is cut down considerably (as compared to conventional agriculture). Because the growing time is shorter, the volume of water it takes to grow a plant from seed to harvest is substantially reduced. Leveraging the energy of the sun using greenhouses and solar power can also contribute to a more sustainable form of agriculture while using less space.
How could this revolutionize how we grow and produce food locally?
Aquaponics can be done anywhere in the world. When growing in controlled environments, farmers can produce higher yields in on a smaller footprint. Because of this, urban, suburban and rural farms can help reduce the distance food travels from farm to plate. (On average, produce travels 1,500 miles before it reaches its final destination.) Because much of our country’s distribution is designed around hubs and distribution points, geographic locations that lack access to fresh, healthy organic food (also referred to as food deserts) are becoming a real concern. Aquaponics has the ability to help solve these issues.
How can you get involved?
By investing in local food infrastructure, you not only reap the immediate benefits of health and nutrition, but you pay it forward to those next generation of farmers. Wind River Produce is excited to build and expand our vision. Attending our upcoming classes, workshops and community events is a perfect way to learn what you can do to help be a part of this next growing revolution.