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.”

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid