News / Science & Technology

    Combined Fish-Vegetable Farming Catching On

    'Aquaponics' Farms Fish and Vegetables Togetheri
    X
    November 18, 2013 11:24 PM
    A new way of farming is on the rise. 'Aquaponics' raises fish and vegetables together in a symbiotic system. Sustainability advocates have embraced the technique as a compact way to efficiently produce high quality, nutritious food. But as VOA’s Steve Baragona reports, it remains to be seen whether aquaponics is sustainable financially as well as environmentally.
    The fish don’t like strangers.

    Ellen Perlman pours a scoop of fish food into one of four blue plastic tanks at Chesapeake Aquaponics, about half an hour from Baltimore. Picture a giant kiddie pool that's deep enough to stand in up to your belly.

    “You would think we have piranhas here,” she said, expecting a torrent of tilapia to froth the water’s surface but it remains stubbornly smooth. She chuckled. "Maybe not.” 

    She says the fish recognize her voice and her footsteps, but not a visiting reporter’s.

    “Fish are very sensitive animals,” she added.

    Environmental sweet spot

    But it’s an indelicate aspect of these delicate creatures that makes her garden grow. From these tanks, water rich in what you might call “fish manure” flows through a filter system and into the adjacent plant beds, where lettuce and other vegetable plants float in Styrofoam rafts.

    “It’s a way of recycling the fish nutrients,” she says.

    It’s called aquaponics. It combines aquaculture - or fish farming - with hydroponics - growing plants without soil.

    Aquaponics hits a sweet spot for environmentalists. It recycles fish waste into plant food. Hydroponics typically uses less water than conventional farming. And for those concerned about insecticides on their produce, the fact that the fish share the water with the plants means aquaponic farmers have to be very careful about what they spray.

    “Any type of spray would harm the fish,” Perlman said. Even insecticidal soaps popular with organic growers are off limits.

    Another part of aquaponics’ appeal is the fact that overfishing is depleting the world’s oceans.  Fish farming accounts for at least half the world’s production, but waste from all those confined fish is polluting some areas.

    “There are fewer and fewer fish in the ocean and more and more fish will be raised on farms,” said Dave Love, a microbiologist with the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future (CLF). “The trick is, how do we do that responsibly, sustainably and in ways that make fish farmers money?”

    Small but productive

    Tackling those questions is what CLF’s Cylburn Aquaponics Farm aims to do.

    Located next to greenhouses at Baltimore’s Cylburn Arboretum, the farm has been up and running for a little over a year.

    Farm manager Laura Genello says she’s delivering about 10 to 20 pounds (five to 10 kilograms) of produce per week to local farmers markets from about 300 square feet (28 square meters) of growing space.

    “Which is relatively small,” she said, “but 10 pounds of greens is a fair amount of greens.”

    The farm harvested its first 20 one-kilo fish earlier this fall, and they expect to produce about 275 fish per year.

    Profitable?

    But whether aquaponics is profitable is an open question. Energy costs are a big factor.

    “Our tilapia like 70 degrees (21C). In the winter, it gets quite a bit cooler," Love said. "So, we need to heat the space.”

    Cylburn Aquaponics Farm is grant-funded, but Chesapeake Aquaponics is a commercial venture. It has not turned a profit yet, but Perlman is optimistic that providing high-quality fresh greens in the middle of winter will win her a niche market.

    The elegance of aquaponics’ symbiosis is alluring, and aquaponic businesses and nonprofit projects are popping up around the country and around the world.

    But Genello is cautious.

    “I think we have to be careful about not getting ahead of ourselves with the excitement about the system because there are a lot of things that are not quite perfect about it,” Genello said. “That’s why it’s really important for more people to actually do aquaponics, so we get more people experimenting and playing around with what works and what doesn’t.”

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    Party's presumptive presidential nominee, her vice presidential pick deliver optimistic message in Florida as they campaign for first time together

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Osmundo Gemora Libo-on from: Binalbagan, Negros Occ.
    December 04, 2013 4:19 PM
    I have been looking for alternative farming and maybe this is good and applicable here.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora