A trip to the local grocery store can be discouraging. Start reading ingredient labels and you will be disgusted by what’s found in all boxed and canned foods. Next, you hit the edges of your local grocer to stay healthy and pick up your fruits and vegetables. Although produce doesn’t have ingredient labels, their story of unsustainable chemical practices runs deep.
The way our agricultural system is currently progressing is not sustainable. Eighty percent of water used in the U.S. is used by agriculture. The lack of rotating crops and providing cover crops leads to soil erosion. The EPA states, in many agricultural areas, “soil is eroding at a rate of several tons of soil per acre per year or higher.” The degradation of our soil has caused farmers to supplement their fields with synthetic fertilizers. The amount of total fertilizer used by the industry has increased from 7.5 million nutrient tons in 1960 to 21.5 million nutrient tons in 2011. These fertilizers not only impact the food in our grocery stores but also impact our water quality and wildlife.
There is a new growing revolution proving food doesn’t have to come from fields, it can come from your house and it doesn’t even need dirt. Aquaponics is growing fish and plants together. More formally, it is a food production system that combines aquaculture (raising fish, snails or other aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). The fish provide the ammonia that is converted to fertilizer by bacteria in a media (rock) bed where the plant crops, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs, are grown. Systems use less water than traditional farming through recirculation in systems that range in size from a small indoor tank system to a huge 10,000 square foot or bigger commercial system. The only inputs are fish food and replenishing water lost due to evaporation.
Green Phoenix Farms located in Mansfield, Texas has been busy building and growing an aquaponics community in our area. They help establish aquaponic systems in private owner backyards, community gardens, commercial units, and local schools and colleges. “It’s really proving to be a huge tool for active engagement of the students.” says Adam Cohen, Founder of Green Phoenix Farms. Cohen continues, “When students can actually get their hands dirty, the learning becomes more experiential and realistic and they see a point to it.”
Late last year Green Phoenix Farms finished an aquaponics lab at Mountain View College, one of the seven Dallas County Community Colleges. With grant funding secured by Lori De La Cruz, Mountain View College’s Sustainability Coordinator, Mountain View was able to renovate their greenhouse into a producing food pantry and student learning center. De La Cruz sums up the influence of the aquaponics lab for the students, “It’s a perfect way to teach sustainability to students. When you start talking about food, then you can talk about water quality, air quality, nutrition, poverty, transportation, petroleum, and just that whole systems thinking that gets them engaged. We start off talking about food, we are teaching them about sustainability and climate change and how climate change is going to affect our food supply.”
The aquaponics system really is for everyone. It can be a great addition to a school, a source of food in your own home or a small sustainable side business for yourself. Green Phoenix Farms runs a number of training classes from the Do It Yourself home made systems to a three month program that guides 16 people through the process of developing a commercial farm from concept to marketable product. The class dives into business structure, production models and everything it takes to make a successful business that can provide about $1500-$3000 a month in income off of part time work.
Aquaponics is making a big move forward. Your system can be a high class trendy design piece in your home or a do it yourself cheap system in your backyard. A multifaceted approach to food production that includes aquaponics is the path to a sustainable food future. It’s not about focusing on one way but creating a community that supports each other to create access to good quality sustainable food.
To attend informative classes on aquaponics visit mountainviewcollege.edu/sustainabilityproject or join me at Green Phoenix Farm’s next free open house on April 4, 2015, greenphoenixfarms.com.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.