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Aquaponics and the Ultimate Sustainability

July 15, 2010

At the LOHAS Forum (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) a couple weeks ago, we were struck by the wide variety of people that we met.  We met CEOs, or former CEOs, of Aveda and Horizon Dairy.  We met a man who believed that a particular kind of clock could set your bio-rhythms.  We met Huffington Post columnists and activists for a wide range of causes.  We met bloggers and book authors.  What brought them all together for those few days in Boulder was their fierce commitment to the notion of sustainability.

While I was attending one of the sessions my husband struck up a conversation with the producer of the film “Fuel”.  The producer left the conversation pondering the possibility of aquaponics, and us, somehow being involved in his next film project but not without first asking if he could take one of our Aquaponics Explained videos in exchange for a copy of “Fuel”.  Not wanting to seem rude, and spotting a possible PR opportunity, my husband agreed to the exchange.  Last weekend we decided to watch “Fuel”, although with a skeptical pre-disposition.  Here is a trailer:

It was excellent.  Viewed from the perspective of one man’s obsessive quest to popularize bio-fuels, Fuel takes you on a roller coaster ride up the rise of vegetable oil-based bio-fuels, (spoiler alert!) and then back down as you realize how much fuel is used to power corn production in this country.  When we use as much energy to create bio-fuel through fertilizers, pesticides, processing and transport as we can extract from the resulting product; we stretch to beyond the breaking point the notion of sustainability.  Anyone who read Michael Pollen’s Omnivores Dilemma, or seen Food Inc. or King Corn knows this.

The good news is that the film ends on a high note with the emergence of algae farms.  Algae are a fast growing powerhouse of bio-fuel potential and the best part is that algae can be grown in waste water.  This is the part in the movie where I jumped up and said “just like aquaponics!”

This experience got me thinking.  My slightly blasé attitude through most of the movie was transformed at the notion of converting waste.  I realized that there are several levels within the notion of “sustainability”.  I think the deepest of these come from technologies that transform waste bi-products into substitutes for depleted or endangered resources.  This is where it gets exciting, and this is why using algae grown in waste water runoff from utility companies caused me to jump from the couch.  I felt the same way when I had dinner a few years ago with a vermicomposting expert who was working to set up worm farms at cattle feed lots to create organic fertilizer from the toxic sludge that is the scourge of those operations.

And, of course, this is just one of the many reasons why I get so excited about aquaponics.  The waste bi-products of fish farming operations and home aquariums, are – if converted to an aquaponics setting, -naturally converted into organic fertilizer for plants. This eliminates the need for hydroponic nutrients that unfortunately leave behind a toxic mix that must be disposed of accordingly.  And the plants are now a natural filter for the water, eliminating the need for mechanical filtration.  It solves key waste disposal problems in both industries (aquaculture and hydroponics) and hands each a benefit in return, i.e. purified water and a complete, organic fertilizer.

Now if only we could figure out how to produce a benefit from the Gulf oil spill…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Bas de Groot permalink
    July 15, 2010 12:38 pm

    In the Netherlands was a company “Happy Shrimp” who wants to breed Shrimps in combination with algae.
    It is a pity but they are bankrupt

    http://www.happyshrimp.nl/NL/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx

    sorry it is all in dutch

  2. July 16, 2010 9:34 am

    Keep up the great work!

    I hopefully will be messing with aquaponics very soon. Buying nutrients every month for hydroponics isnt cheap, and Im very poor…. so a conflict in interest…lol

    I will be following your journey :) I saw one of your earlier post with the new aquaponic setup… looking sweet!

    • July 16, 2010 10:34 am

      Thanks for that! Your comment got me thinking about the cost of fish feed vs. the cost of hydro nutrients. I buy a 50 lb bag of feed about ever 6 months for $30 – $40 at my local feed store. Feeds about 100 fish who, in turn, feed about 50 sq ft of grow bed…which could probably be closer to 70 sq ft (I’m a little overstocked with fish for my grow bed space right now). I don’t know how that compares with hydro nutes for a similar amount of grow area but I suspect it is pretty favorable.

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