Urban farming is on the rise across the country, and one of its most fascinating forms is aquaponics, which combines hydroponics, a growing method that uses water instead of soil, and aquaculture, seafood farming.
"Aquaponics is a biomimicry experiment, meaning an innovation inspired by nature," James Godsil of Sweet Water urban farm in Milwaukee explains. "Aquaponics mimics a wetland, river or stream. Humans strive to create conditions similar to what appears in natural ecosystems where there is a collaboration of life forms who exchange resources with one another."
One of the many advantages of an aquaponics system is the elimination of "waste." "We're even debating whether we should use the word waste, since there's no waste in nature," Godsil says. In Aquaponics, a fish tank is built below vegetable beds, and a mechanism connecting the two allows them to exchange resources. The fish produce ammonia, which the plants are able to convert and use as fertilizer. In return, the plants clean the water for the fish, creating a symbiotic relationship like one that would be found in nature.
Godsil explains there is still some solid waste which needs to be removed from the fish tanks, but even this is put to good use. It is added to Sweet Water's compost pile and later becomes more food for plants.
Aquaponics also helps to conserve water that would be needed to clean the fish tanks and water the plants. Amazingly, aquaponics uses only one-tenth of the water that would be necessary for traditional plants grown in the ground.
Sweet Water's fish and vegetables have become so popular in their Milwaukee community, they cannot supply enough to meet the demand. This shows the positive impact Sweet Water's aquaponics has made on the community. They also give tours and educate anyone interested in aquaponics methods.
Sweet Water has "40 educational programs in Milwaukee schools and 40 in Chicago in all levels of education – elementary school through graduate students," demonstrating the ideal relationship between an urban farm and the community; a relationship that is symbiotic, just like the fish and plants.
Image by Kanu Hawaii, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.