By: Sarah Pardy, P.H.Ec. of Lumago
“But I want to work in agriculture AND food & nutrition AND environment fields”.
As I deliberated the next step in my career these were the words that ran through my head over and over...then I stumbled upon aquaponics.
For those unfamiliar with this sustainable method of agriculture, aquaponics combines aquaculture (the farming of fish) with hydroponics (the farming of plants in water). Essentially, the fish fertilize the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. The fish waste in the water is converted into a nutrient rich fertilizer which is taken up by the plants, cleaning the water in the process, and recycled back to the fish tank. One big, happy, mutualistic relationship that provides local, and nutritious fish and vegetables.
Agriculture, check. Food & nutrition, check. Now what about the environmental draw?
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Since the fish are providing the fertilizer for the plants, the amount of added fertilizers is drastically reduced. Also, the water is continuously recirculated and reused throughout the system which significantly reduces the amount of water that is needed to grow a crop -particularly beneficial in parts of the world where water is limited. Finally (but definitely not the end of the environmental benefit list), the wastewater produced by the fish is cleaned by the plants and recycled back into the fish tank.
I have been involved with agriculture all my life but was introduced to aquaponics only seven months ago. I'd found my calling.
My work since has been educational in nature, promoting aquaponics as a learning tool to allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental concepts of science, and encourage experiential learning. It promotes healthy eating, local food consumption, and increases food literacy in an exciting and attainable way.
Many people are not aware of this type of farming so being able to educate them has been very rewarding.
In addition to small scale benefits mentioned above, aquaponics can be used all year round and in places that may not otherwise be able to grow food and opening up possibilities of having more local food available throughout winter. Perhaps even that empty warehouse, unused box store, or office basement in the middle of the city could be turned into an aquaponics facility, creating jobs and increasing the availability of fresh, nutritious food in urban centers.
Aquaponics is an age-old method of farming and its use is slowly growing around the world. Feeding our rapidly increasing population continues to be a challenge, and I believe that aquaponics can contribute to the long-term solution.