Box to Bounty; Transforming Backyard Splash Pools to Food Safe Aquaponics Victory Gardens

by George Brooks, Jr. Ph.D
NxT Horizon Group

The CBS news headline reads; “Victory Gardens” for the pandemic. I am a 40-year aquaculture academic, extension and industry professional and my wife Angela is a certified U of Az Master Gardener. Together we own the aquaponics AgTech development firm NxT Horizon and Millbrook Urban Farms. The coronavirus emergency has truly been a terrible thing. I lost a friend to it. One day it will be over. But its lingering impact has given us the chance to do something positive; help more people grow more food.

What we are experiencing today is nothing new. National emergencies tend to disrupt things. Food chains break down. Years ago during World Wars I and II, governments called upon families to aid the war effort by growing as much food for personal consumption as they could, to help relieve the burden for farmers. In the US the model worked, with 20 million families growing enough food in their back yards to feed 40% of the nation. Doing the math, they used about 2,500 sq ft of land to produce about 800 lb of food per year per family. Today many people are feeling the need to produce food in much the same way. However, most back yards today if you have one, are postage stamps when compared to yesterday. There is just not enough room particularly in urban areas to grow 800 lbs. of produce.

We live in Phoenix Arizona and, though in a water poor region, Phoenicians love swimming pools and there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of them. Many are the big, expensive diving pools. But even more are the above ground “splash” pools with the small 10 ft circular or rectangular ones dominating back yards. All too often these are filled with green water growing mosquitoes. So just imagine, what if through aquaponics, we could convert them to grow food instead? It took some innovation, a bit of science and eschewing the classic way to do aquaponics but we learned how, they worked well, are inexpensive and very productive. We have been refining the technique for a number of years now.

Our focus has been to bring aquaponics to the urban core to create jobs, fight malnutrition, food deserts, obesity and more. This new method will help us do that. But now because we have demonstrated they can grow hundreds of pounds of produce and some really good fish in a small space (about 70 sq ft), they can potentially help people make the dream of a 21st-century victory garden real in today’s small back yards.

By pure serendipity we have been running a public “Aquaponics Victory Garden” demonstration project since December 2019, before the emergency hit. People have been watching us from around the world, but since COVID-19, there is much more urgency and the demand is critical. We are working on a book about it with all DIY details. I think people will find it useful.

If you’d like to see more information, please visit @NxTHorizon on Facebook.

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