The city farming movement conjures images of growers covered in soil, planting and picking in community or rooftop garden plots. But perhaps the most promising technique for urban agriculture involves pumps and pipes in squeaky clean labs. It's called aquaponics, and it may revolutionize the way we eat. In a piece for The Atlantic Cities, UrbanFarmers CEO Roman Gaus describes how it works:
Aquaponics is a method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a recirculating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish feces and urine. The net result: a 90 percent reduction in freshwater use compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. The system can be run without pesticides and, because the fish environment is spacious and clean, without antibiotics.
In 2010, Gaus was an MBA grad working in the coffee business when he visited the Aquaponics research facility at the University of Applied Sciences near Zurich. The visit would change the course of his life. After witnessing the system in action, Gaus teamed with lab director Andreas Graber to launch UrbanFarmers, a company focused on growing local food in the city, avoiding middlemen and transportation distances, and exploiting higher margins by selling directly to customers.
Gaus views aquaponics as the tipping point for the urban farming revolution:
I am convinced that it will prove a working, robust, and scalable solution to feed growing urban centers in the 21st century... With populations already large and still exploding, growing food in the city for the city makes sense not only environmentally but also commercially. The future could see us integrate solar panels on a greenhouse roof with waste heat streams from server farms within a building, possibly even creating zero-emission urban farms.
What do you think? Is aquaponics the way forward to a sustainable food future?
Read the article here.
Photo credit: UrbanFarmers Ltd.