Does all this talk about lettuce and broccoli make you hungry for some real meat? Let’s talk aquaponics.
For centuries, people around the world have raised fish as a food crop. This cultivation occurs in ocean pens, large outdoor tanks, or sometimes in small tanks within greenhouses, in basements, and on roofs. A variant of the latter practice is called aquaponics.
Aquaponics is the symbiotic production of plants and aquatic animals in a closed-loop environment. This means that vegetables and herbs are grown hydroponically, while fish or other sea creatures occupy the water that fuels the hydroponic system. The symbiotic part of the relationship comes into play when the animal waste (fecal matter, excess food, etc.) is used as the sole nutrient source for the food crops, and in exchange, the plants filter the water for the fish. The clean water is pumped back into the hydroponic system, and the cycle continues – what a beautiful thing.
Bony fish (such as Tilapia and Perch), molluscs, and crustaceans are the most common aquatic animals cultivated in these systems. Variations in organism growth rates, compounded by the need for equipment adjustments, means that it can take up to six months for an aquaponics system to become fully operational. The Milwaukee-based agricultural organization Growing Power experiments extensively with aquaponics. Growing Power’s fish are sold to restaurants, direct customers, and ethnic markets.
While aquaponics is relatively new to the U.S., the technique has been practiced in Asia for many years. The concept of integrating farming with fish production is rooted in Asian tradition, and historic evidence suggests that this type of integrated farming may have existed 3,000 years ago in China.