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Aquaponics and Permaculture

May 9, 2010

Yesterday I taught a three hour class on aquaponics at a wonderful permaculture education center called The Farmette in Lyons, CO. There were about 18 people there, many of whom were already full aquaponics converts just looking for a little more information. I love to teach, in part because I think that participating in adult education classes is a very hopeful experience. It is about stretching and evolving yourself and refusing to accept your personal status quo.

I have been involved with this group for a few months now. I helped them setup their own aquaponics system, I’ve attended talks on urban agriculture, and I’ve even had the privilege of seeing their newly born lambs and heard about the fowl tragedy of a fox’s visit. I’ve also taught a brief (1 hr) section of their permaculture certification course. This involvement has pushed me to think about permaculture, and it’s relation to aquaponics, when perhaps I wouldn’t have had a direct reason to otherwise. Not surprisingly to anyone who knows anything about permaculture, I’ve concluded that they are an excellent match.

Wikipedia defines permaculture as “an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies.” As an aquaponic gardener I can certainly endorse that idea. Aquaponics in many ways is the “discovery” that when you raise fish with plants in a way that most closely mimics nature your system will become a natural, balanced ecology. As often happens when we work with nature, rather than battle her, a balanced aquaponic system becomes a simpler, more successful system that either of it’s parent technologies of recirculating aquaculture or hydroponics.

They synergy becomes even more pronounced with you consider this excerpt from the Key Concepts page on the Permaculture Institute’s website “Animals are a critical component of any sustainable system, as without their participation and contribution the ecological balance cannot be achieved. Everything gardens in permaculture, and animals are in the leadership position.” Don’t you love how that is said? I truly think of my fish as being in a leadership position in my garden.

The only rub in this otherwise perfect relationship is that permaculture is extremely soil focused and I certainly felt some tension in the room when I began my diatribe about the benefits of soil-less gardening (“imagine gardening waist-high with no weeds, no deer and no mess!”) in my first talk there. Oops. I was better prepared the second time and tried to preempt the offense by reassuring the group that I am not anti-soil, but rather I truly believe that our food-producing future requires that we embrace the right production system for the circumstance. I’ve said before in this blog that aquaponics is not about displacing fertile farmland with greenhouses but rather about growing in places that aren’t fertile, or by people who are looking for an alternative, or addition to traditional soil-based gardening. And aquaponics should always be used with recirculating fish production systems everywhere – there is no good alternative for processing fish waste.  I really believe this and the class seemed convinced, but then again they weren’t part of a two week certification intensive so it was an easier crowd to convince.

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