At Sustainable America, we are focused on ways to double or triple the amount of local food produced on urban farms and in what are known as “controlled environment agriculture” efforts, which include hydroponics, aquaponics and, more recently, aeroponics. Our role is to educate the public at large about these initiatives around the country, to engage those who want to get involved in growing food this way, and to invest in companies that are innovating in this area.
On the education side, we are in the process of building our own aquaponics system in our new offices. It’s a Fish Garden system from Atlanta-based Aqua Planet. This is a scalable product that we will operate for demonstration purposes, with koi swimming in the tank and a variety of green, leafy vegetables growing from bamboo poles integrated into the system. Our headquarters is located in a part of Stamford, Connecticut, with lots of new economic development — there is a former industrial zone with a scrap metal yard and wastewater treatment plant nearby, but new restaurants and loft residences are cropping up. Our office space would be an ideal spot to raise commercial fish, like tilapia, and high-end greens for the local restaurants. If we didn’t have other work to do, inspiring the country to reduce its oil consumption and reduce food waste, we could be very busy and profitable doing this work instead!
However, there are lots of opportunities for us to help develop the market for CEA systems. Across the country, there are thousands of abandoned factory buildings, warehouses, shopping malls and school buildings. These are underperforming or non-performing assets – in many cases, the buildings may be in disrepair, or may become centers for illegal activity. In some cities, like Milwaukee, Detroit and Gary, Indiana, city governments have become unwilling landlords for these buildings. They are starting to turn them over to tenants who promise to occupy them, fix them up, and pay utilities, which helps to revive these urban neighborhoods. These locations are perfect for CEA systems.
What’s needed is a way to connect the dots between those who have these properties to people who want to design and build CEA systems, and to those who have the training to operate them as profitable enterprises. Sustainable America recently acquired Shared Earth, which may be a vehicle to do just that. Currently, Shared Earth is an online marketplace that matches those who want to farm or garden with those who have excess land. However, this platform can support other derivations, including matching ranchers with owners of unused ranchland; soup kitchens with gleaning efforts on local farms; and those with unused property with those who want to create CEA systems. We also have connections to the American Community Gardening Association and aquaponics experts like Growing Power who not only operate community gardens and aquaponics systems, but also have the educational resources to train new workers in this field. We’re excited about the possibilities, and are working hard to make it all happen. With your help, we will.
Executive Director, Sustainable America