Skip to content

Aquaponics and the Out-of-Season Locavore

June 13, 2010
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Lately I’ve been engaged in a wonderful email exchange with one of the members of the Aquaponics Gardening Community.  Our discussion recently came to the subject of books we are reading.  Currently on her nightstand is, among others, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver.  This wonderful book is the account of how Kingsolver and her family spent a year living locally, providing for themselves through food they either grew or purchased from local providers.  The book is filled with stories about how they craved the first lettuce that emerged in the early spring, how overwhelmed they were by their August canning activities, and about other deeply felt experiences of scarcity and abundance.  I found myself gushing over how much I had enjoyed the book, but also about how I disagree with it’s core premise – i.e., that to truly eat locally one must grow according to the seasons.

Allow me to digress (you will see why in a moment).  In laying the marketing foundation at AeroGrow for the AeroGarden I had the pleasure of participating in esoteric discussions about what it is that defines a gardener.  What motivates her?  What does she hope to get from this activity?  I always asserted that a core characteristic of a gardener is a desire to control her outdoor environment.  Think about typical gardening activities.  Weeding is a way of removing plants that naturally grow in a space so as to make way for plants that the gardener prefers to grow.  We sow seeds and plant plants  to arrange nature to suit our needs.  We water when it gets dry, we enhance our native soil with compost and fertilizer, we remove spent flowers, we deploy all matter of methods for ridding our plants of harmful insects, and we scare away the deer and bunnies.  An amazing gardener is one who manages to create an Eden in the desert, feed her family and her neighborhood from her abundant land, grow the rare and bizarre, and harvest the first tomato or the biggest pumpkin.Aquaponic heirloom tomato

So why then is it considered a locavore virtue to flow with the seasonal obstacles that nature hands out? Why should we not strive to amend the air temperature or length of daylight when it is fine to amend the soil?  Why restrict consumption of salads to the coolness of the spring and fall, and tomatoes to August and September?  Why not extend the warmth of the summer through a greenhouse or another indoor setup and the length of daylight through supplemental lighting?  Yes, energy is consumed but unless we are willing to follow the example of Barbara Kingsolver and spend countless hours canning and freezing and foraging during the summer to provide food for the off-season we will be buying our produce from the grocery store.  That produce will have either been grown in a commercial greenhouse, probably under lights, or have been shipped thousands of miles across the country from warmer climates.  I think I’d rather expend the energy myself on delicious heirloom tomatoes and more that have been coming out of our aquaponics greenhouse since January.  Just seems more local.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. mehry permalink
    June 13, 2010 10:09 pm

    Hey Sylvia, enjoyed your blog.
    in some ways i do agree with seasonal eating, goes with Auruvedic philosophy, but then, i do want to have my greens year round! what a dilemma!
    what i do not believe is the food that travels thousands of miles to get to us…so that would limit me to more of a seasonal consumer since i would not spend the time to do what you do, unless i could buy produce that is grown locally like you do.

    • June 14, 2010 7:24 am

      Hi Mehry. I think like most things in life it is a matter of doing the best we can on each decision day after day. Growing your own food is probably best, but we are all limited in the time, space. and other resources we can devote to that – even Barbara Kingsolver! So next comes supporting our local farmers when we can through farmers markets, then through grocery stores, followed by supporting US organic producers, and finally when you need a tomato in December, and a tomato from Mexico is all that is available, c’est la vie. I think it is about the net affect of our cumulative, conscious decisions that will eventually makes the impacts we are looking for.

  2. HeatherT permalink
    June 14, 2010 12:58 am

    Well, my garden isn’t Aquaponic yet, but it IS in a greenhouse. The seattle June this year is the wettest ever, and “real gardens” just aren’t doing much. We are still getting super-huge rainstorms and hail, which would have wiped out my plants if I had in the open. Yet my plants are dry and in self-watering buckets, and they are happy. My first tomatoes are already setting, and I even have some little baby squash. For the first time ever, I have full-size lettuce, and harvestable kale and collards.

    So local and in-season? Bah humbug. What is local for this area is basically evergreens, grass and berries. Virtually every plant we plant was bred somewhere else, and for a different climate, and for a longer growing season. I’m beginning to think the whole “keep plants in the dirt” idea is flawed on a number of levels, in that it puts you at the mercy of a rather capricious “Nature”. In the days when people were forced to be localvores, they did sacrifices to the gods and also starved a lot.

    My goal for this season is to have enough greens to feed our family, and to finish the greenhouse, adding heat and electricity, which I’d need for an aquaponics system. Looks like I’ll be meeting my “greens” goal early though.

    • June 14, 2010 7:57 am

      Hi Heather. I really enjoyed your comment with my coffee this morning – thank you for that! We’ve been having a crazy spring here as well, and are now going on our 4th rainy day in a row – unheard of! One of the local farmers told me that he is 3 weeks late getting his crops in this year because of the weather. Meanwhile, yesterday I harvested a large garbage full of basil out of my greenhouse. You make a great point about native plants being the ultimate in local, and I’m with you on that Bah humbug, although I do see real value in supporting heirloom varieties when we can. I’m pretty worried about losing the genetic diversity that was actually something good about the days when people were forced to be locavores (as opposed to sacrificing to the gods!). Choice is to be cherished in my book, especially when the alternative is owned by Monsanto and being bred for it’s superior shipping ability. Best of luck meeting the rest of your goals, and installing that aquaponics system, this season!

  3. June 14, 2010 9:53 am

    Loved the post Sylvia, and the comments so far. I haven’t read animal, vegatable, miracle, so my logic will have to live outside of that context.

    I absolutely agree that a key characteristic of a gardener is the desire to control her outdoor environment, including the effects of the seasons – it seems to me that this has been the case for thousands of years. With that said, Monsanto is very much doing the same thing, though to a much higher degree than many of us are comfortable with.

    For me, the idea of eating seasonally, locally, organically, etc. is partially grounded in what each of those things means individually, as you and others leaving comments have already explained, but more importantly, is based on having a better understanding of what I’m eating. This is, what is takes to produce it, what fresh really means, and above all else, what it’s particular foods are supposed to taste like.

    At this stage in my learning, understanding food production is more important than the adherence to black and white principles. As you mentioned, “it is a matter of doing the best we can on each decision day after day.” As a result, I think I’m moving in the right direction without eating strictly seasonally, strictly locally, or strictly organically. If this discussion were about religion, I’d consider myself spiritual, but not religious.

    I suspect that more people will take the time and effort to better understand food production and what it means to them in the near future. From my point of view, I don’t much care whether they choose strict principles or not, whether they grow in their backyard or continue to buy from Monsanto – as long as they’ve put some thought into it first.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • June 14, 2010 10:12 am

      And thank you for the extremely well thought out comment, Bing! I agree with everything you have said here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: