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Aquaponics Yin and Yang

April 11, 2010

I’m convinced that there are many audiences for the aquaponics message, and I’ve had the opportunity over the past few days to witness the reaction of two of them. The first was at a keynote address on Aquaponics that I was asked to deliver at the Denver Botanic Gardens for the season opening event of the Colorado Water Gardening Society (CWGS). The next day I left for San Antonio for the annual Progressive Gardening Trade Association (PGTA) conference, where someone else was giving a presentation on aquaponics and I was listening in the audience.

The Colorado Water Gardening Society is the oldest water gardening society in the world, and their mission is to “provide education about water gardening to the general public and to stimulate the study and culture of water plants.” Sounds like perfect hunting grounds to stimulate interest in aquaponics.

The PGTA is “a non-profit trade association for retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and associated businesses promoting environmentally friendly gardening products with a special interest placed on water-wise and organic applications for the home gardening market.” This is perhaps an even more fertile venue for drumming up new fans of aquaponics.

The focus of the first audience was all about the beauty in nature; the second was focused on her productivity. After my presentation for the CWGS the next “presentation” was a slide show of lotus blooms played to music. The flowers did the speaking. The next presentation at the PGTA was by the founder of Terra Cycle, an extremely cool sustainable company whose mission is nothing short of eliminating garbage through recycling and re-use.

Both audiences were primarily male, but one tended towards the retired engineer turned gardener, while the other towards the scrappy business owner serving a largely young, male hydroponic market.

The water gardeners intuitively understood the importance of a nitrogen cycle that is so core to aquaponics. It is already a part of their dance with nature. To the other group working with nature in this way was foreign, and a shocking departure from their primarily chemical and highly measured hydroponic world. Yet, since this is truly the green sub-group of the hydroponic world (the website for the PGTA emphasizes that they “promote earth-friendly, organic and water-wise progressive gardening techniques”) they seemed fascinated by and hungry for this departure.

And yet similarities between the two groups were as interesting as the contrasts. Both groups are dedicated to the extra-ordinary growing of plants, but neither group is your grandmother’s garden club. Both groups are used to using water as the primary vehicle for delivering nutrition to those plants, not soil. Both groups incorporated aquaponics into their premier event, and both groups were attentive, asked great questions, and seemed hungry for more.

My sincere hope is that at least one member of each audience was inspired enough to go home and say to their spouse “you know, honey, I think I may have found a new hobby. How do you feel about growing tilapia in the backyard?”

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