In today’s society where population growth is rampant and living standards are on the rise globally, there is a subsequent demand for more food to feed the growing population. In the past we’ve met this demand with more output from industrial farm operations. However there is a move afoot to steer away from the factory farm and towards local, sustainably grown food.
The current model of industrial agriculture thrives on three factors that are no longer an option: cheap fossil fuels, unlimited water, and a stable climate. Cheap fossil fuels are a thing of the past and today’s increasing oil prices affects and will continue to affect the price of food. Modern industrial agriculture is also the single largest contributor of CO2 emissions. Similarly, water is no longer “unlimited.” In fact it is a very precious resource we often take for granted.
As populations grow so does our demand for water to raise the food needed. Unfortunately, this demand is causing ground water supplies to be drawn down. Global warming is giving us longer droughts, heavier rains, hot days, and colder nights. Hard to grow food in these conditions.
Industrial agriculture at its current rate is unsustainable. The price of food will continue to skyrocket, our natural resources will eventually be depleted, and our climate will continue to change at an alarming rate. Food will be available to only the few who can afford it.
In an effort to minimize reliance on industrial farms, more people are turning to non-traditional methods for growing food. There is one sustainable farming technique in particular that is growing in popularity and could be a solution to our growing food issues.
Aquaponics is a revolutionary technique merging two major food-generating systems, hydroponics and aquaculture, into one. This involves the cultivation of fish and plants together in a constructed, recirculating ecosystem. It utilizes natural bacterial cycles to convert fish waste into usable plant nutrients and plants to filter the water. The result is an environmentally friendly system for growing food that solves the greatest weaknesses of both currently accepted methodologies from which it was spawned. It is no longer necessary to pollute waterways or rely on chemical fertilizers. Putting it simply, the fish waste feeds the plants and the plants clean the water.
The aquaponic system has a number of advantages. For the fish, all that is required is the periodic top-up of water levels to offset losses to evaporation and transpiration. This has the potential to relieve a great deal of pressure on water conservation efforts worldwide. Water in an aquaponic system recirculates rather than seeping into the groundwater. To feed the plants, waste from feeding fish is inexpensive compared to hydroponic nutrient solutions and does not rely on the over-mining of essential nutrients.
Using aquaponics to grow vegetables alongside a viable protein source may be a great step towards food security in the future. This productive technique has already been adopted by many individuals and is starting to get noticed by big business. Growing Power Incorporated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has established a large-scale aquaponic vertical farm in a busy urban area. They boast the production of 100,000 fish on a small three-acre commercial parcel and is well on the way to fulfilling aspirations of regularly supplying local markets and restaurants with fresh produce and protein. Northern Bioponics Ltd. of Prince George grows 12 months of the year and sells its produce and fish locally. The ability to grow food without harmful pesticides and herbicides, using few resources, and leaving the smallest carbon footprint is not a pipe dream; it’s already here.
David Greaves and Kelly Skaug are second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College.