— Nan Sterman
What if you could grow most of your family’s vegetables and protein in your own backyard and do it with just a fraction of the water and resources that your in-ground garden requires?
According to the people you’ll meet in this week’s episode of A Growing Passion, that’s the magic of aquaponics.
Aquaponics is a catchall term for food-growing systems that link hydroponics to aquaculture. In hydroponic systems, vegetables grow with their roots bathed in water rather than in soil. Aquaculture systems grow fish. Put the two together, add some bacteria, and you have an almost closed loop system. Here’s why:
Fish poop into the water they live in. That poopy water is high in nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient for plants. Plant roots take up nitrogen from the water, purifying it and leaving it clean enough for fish to live in.
As you’ll see, it’s a little more complicated than that, and bacteria are involved too, but that’s the basic process.
In This Show…
For this epsiode, the crew and I visit different kinds of aquaponics systems, each a variation on the theme and in a different kind of setting.
We first visit ECOLIFE Conservation’s large, experimental aquaponics project where founder Bill Toone explains that his organization sees aquaponics as a way to feed people while limiting the conversion of native habitats to farms. “The smaller the footprint for agriculture,” Bill told me, “the more habitat conserved for animals… Stacking of fish farming and vegetable farming… reduces agriculture’s footprint and water use.”
ECOLIFE trains future aquaponics farmers, too. You’ll see their EcoGarden program in action at Vista, California’s Madison Middle School. We arrive in time to help the garden club set up an aquaponics pond they designed using EcoGarden’s curriculum.
According to teacher Krissy Morrow, seventh grade science curriculum concepts include matter, cycling, and energy flow – all beautifully demonstrated with aquaponics systems. The students manage, design, budget, and raise the funds for their aquaponics system. And their enthusiasm is contagious.
After school, we meet home gardener David St. John, who switched to aquaponics when he grew frustrated with his raised bed garden. St. John’s system is both simple and sophisticated, as is fitting his engineering mind. You’ll be amazed by how much food he grows in a small space (and DON’T MISS David’s humongous radish).
Our last stop is Chef Adam Navidi’s Future Foods Farms in Brea, California.
Chef Navidi takes the concept of farm-to-table to a whole new level. He grows hundreds of pounds of vegetables and more than 20,000 tilapia fish.
Navidi designed and assembled different kinds of aquaponics systems from reclaimed materials left by the farm’s previous tenant. The fish and vegetables he grows go into dishes he creates for his restaurant Oceans and Earth, in nearby Yorba Linda.
Chef Adam took me on a tour of his farm, then cooked me a most delicious and inventive lunch. Yum!