Sustainable America Blog


growing food with aquaponics

Photo Credit: jntolva via Compfight cc

In the continued effort to find more efficient ways to feed a growing global population that is increasingly concentrated in urban areas, many individuals and businesses are turning to aquaponics as a super-efficient urban farming solution. And who doesn’t want to make our food system more efficient? Aquaponics, a method of growing food and raising fish, is underway at some urban farms like The Plant in Chicago, and Growing Power , and Sweetwater Organics in Milwaukee, among others.

An essay on The Atlantic’s website by Roman Gaus, CEO of Urban Farmers defines aquaponics as,

“…A method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a recirculating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish feces and urine. The net result: a 90 percent reduction in freshwater use compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. The system can be run without pesticides and, because the fish environment is spacious and clean, without antibiotics.”

Aquaponics enthusiasts tout its many advantages and benefits:

  • Little soil is needed.
  • It is a largely organic process with no need for external fertilizer input or pesticides.
  • Farming can take place year-round.
  • The process conserves water.
  • Urban aquaponics centers could create jobs in cities.

But aquaponics also has drawbacks, such as:

  • Expensive start-up costs
  • According to the Aquaponics Resource Center, “Tubes and water supply need constant monitoring to see if they are still functioning properly.”
  • Aquaponics is not truly a closed chain process, since fish food is a required input.
  • Aquaponics still requires energy to keep its systems running. In many cases, aquaponics systems are designed to run on renewable or cleaner energy, but it depends on the grid that a given operation runs on.

As our population grows and more people flock to cities, it will be beneficial to find ways of providing local food to urban dwellers that doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles by truck from a traditional farm. Aquaponics shows great promise as an efficient, urban source of local microgreens, fish and vegetables. Sustainable America aims to increase food availability and decrease fuel consumption in the United States, and aquaponics might be one way to begin to do just that!

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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