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Aquaponics: Urban, Local, Sustainable, But How Does It Work Exactly?

Aquaponics shows great promise as an efficient, urban source of local microgreens, fish and vegetables.

In the continued effort to find more efficient ways to feed a growing global population increasingly concentrated in urban areas, many individuals and businesses are turning to aquaponics as a super-efficient urban farming solution. And who doesn’t want to make our food system more efficient? Aquaponics, a method of growing food and raising fish, is underway at some urban farms like The Plant in Chicago, and Growing Power, and Sweetwater Organics in Milwaukee, among others.

An essay on The Atlantic’s website by Roman Gaus, CEO of Urban Farmers defines aquaponics as:

“…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.”


Aquaponics enthusiasts tout its many advantages and benefits:

  • Little soil is needed.
  • It is a largely organic process with no need for external fertilizer input or pesticides.
  • Farming can take place year-round.
  • The process conserves water.
  • Urban aquaponics centers could create jobs in cities.
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But aquaponics also has drawbacks, such as:

  • Expensive start-up costs.
  • According to the Aquaponics Resource Center, “Tubes and water supply need constant monitoring to see if they are still functioning properly.”
  • Aquaponics is not truly a closed chain process, since fish food is a required input.
  • Aquaponics still requires energy to keep its systems running. In many cases, aquaponics systems are designed to run on renewable or cleaner energy, but it depends on the grid that a given operation runs on.
  • \n

As our population grows and more people flock to cities, it will be beneficial to find ways of providing local food to urbanites. Aquaponics shows great promise as an efficient, urban source of local microgreens, fish, and vegetables. Sustainable America aims to increase food availability and decrease fuel consumption in the United States, and aquaponics might be one way to begin to do just that.

This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at and on Twitter at #chewonit.\n

Original photo via (cc) Flickr user John Tolva


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