Food Miles Pt. 4: Aquaponics

Remember what I said about the importance of buying seasonal, local food? Still relevant; however, my usual food investigating has led me to another breakthrough in the Omnivore’s Solution. I was doing my usual weekly Good Eggs order and checking off my personal filters: locally grown, local business, pesticide-free, GMO-free. Just by choosing a local farm I’m almost always guaranteed the product will also be seasonal. So, when I saw that after using the filters, Beefsteak tomatoes were still an option for my basket I was very confused – prime growing season for tomatoes is during the summer. My first reaction was disappointment; was my newfound food source failing me, as most other trusted ones had in the past? Was I back on the hunt for a place that provided the food I wanted and needed, consistently? No.

Photo Courtesy of Good Eggs
Photo Courtesy of Good Eggs

I should have had more faith in Good Eggs (sorry)! When I looked to see what farm was providing my grocery service with tomatoes in the middle of December, I saw that the tomatoes were grown through aquaponic agriculture at Continental Organics (Hudson Valley). Okay, so yes to local. But seasonal? I had no idea what aquaponics meant but…I REALLY wanted to add tomatoes to my basket. So I did some research. And the results blew my mind.

What Continental Organics and other farms”using aquaponics do is used a closed-cycle system where they are able to sustainably and ethically raise both fish and produce. It’s a zero waste system that is capable of producing, per acre, nine times more food than an acre of conventionally farmed land on an industrialized farm. The ability to use aquaponic agriculture both indoors and outdoors means year-round food production of any variety. How it works is fish are raised in  tanks (of humane proportions) of circulating water, requiring only 10% of the water needed for conventional farming. The fish are fed an organic, plant-based diet that’s rich in CO2 and nitrogen – these nutrients are then excreted into the water. The water is pumped to greenhouses storing plants – like tomatoes – who eat up the nutrients, creating growth and naturally purifying the water. The same water is returned to the fish and the cycle continues; all unused waste is then composted.

Photo courtesy of Continental Organics
Photo courtesy of Continental Organics

As innovative as this system appears, it’s really just a model of how life systems work in nature. Funny how we humans thinks we need to reinvent the wheel…Of course there are economic and political reasons (ahem, corrupt ones…) for why EVERY farm hasn’t switched to a system like this. But rather than rant, I’d rather rave. You can avoid the controversy just by supporting farms like Conventional Organics. And the best part? You can have your cake (tomatoes) and it it too – 365 days a year!

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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