Aquaponics Can Reduce Food Miles

By Brian Filipowich

Long travel distances for our food lead to excessive carbon use, energy use for refrigeration, food spoilage, nutrient depletion, and poorer food security.

Aquaponics – and other controlled-environment growing techniques like hydroponics and aeroponics – can greatly reduce the distance food travels from farm to plate.

For the first time ever, researchers recently attempted to map out the entire U.S. food supply chain. The resulting map, above, shows an intricate web of food moving across the country. The full report is public and can be found here: Food flows between counties of the United States (Lin, 2019)

The map illustrates that our food travels long distances before it reaches our plate. “Food miles” is the measurement that tracks the actual distance food travels from farm to plate.

“Studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels over 1,300 miles, and fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles, before being consumed.” (ATTRA, 2008)

One reason for high food miles is because most food requires a large amount of open land and arable soil, and requires a specific climate to be grown at a large scale. Only certain parts of the country meet this criteria, and these areas must transport food long distances to reach all U.S. consumers. The map to the right shows the nine counties in the U.S. (highlighted in red) from which most food originates.

But aquaponics – and other modern growing methods like hydroponics and aeroponics – are water-based and do not require large amounts of arable soil. Also, these modern growing methods are usually practiced in “controlled-environments” like greenhouses that maintain ideal growing environments for plants throughout the entire year.

Aquaponic systems that raise edible fish can further reduce food miles by cutting down on the distance needed to transport the animal protein in our diets. The demand for animal protein is expected to rise along with world population growth. But farms that raise beef, pork, and poultry need large tracts of land far from population centers. Conversely, aquaponics and other recirculating aquaculture operations can raise fish in urban or suburban areas. And, because fish have a much more efficient feed conversion ratio than land animals, less feed stock needs to be grown and shipped, further increasing efficiency.

To read more about food miles, see Food Miles, Background and Marketing from ATTRA.

One often-overlooked benefit of local food is greater food security. Our complex web of food is susceptible to systemic shocks such as weather or disaster events. In extreme cases, disruptions could make it difficult to get enough food to a certain population. A greater proportion of local food allows areas to be better-prepared in cases of unexpected events.

But, before we assume that all food miles are bad, more research is needed to measure the tradeoffs between local and long-distance. For instance, studies show that it’s often more efficient to import fruits from distant warmer climates than to heat a local greenhouse in the winter.

More needs to be done to evaluate, quantify, and account for the hidden costs of our food system, including food miles. Analytic tools such as True Cost Accounting, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) create a more complete picture of the true cost of a product. LCA takes into account the costs of a product’s entire life cycle: production, processing, packaging, transport, use, and final disposal. LCA uses indicators not traditionally captured in a product’s market price, such as resource depletion, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, human health impacts, and waste generation.

Analytic tools like LCA can uncover the true cost of shipping foods long distances and incentivize local agriculture. Aquaponic and hydroponic growers will benefit because – without the need for soil – they can get as close to consumers as possible. The result will be fresher food, less strain on the planet, and local economic growth!

 

SAVE THE DATE: Tulsa, Oklahoma September 25-27

ANNUAL CONFERENCE SAVE THE DATE

The Aquaponics Association is excited to announce that we will hold our annual conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma from September 25 – 27! Stay tuned for much more info and tickets within a few weeks.

2019 PRESENTATIONS AVAILABLE FOR MEMBERS

Did you know that Aquaponics Association Members have free access to the conference slide decks from last year’s conference at Kentucky State University? Click here to learn about Membership and access these informative presentations from experienced growers.

Members, to access the slides you can go to the main Members Area and look under Member Content, click “2019 Conference Slide Decks”.

ORGANICS WEBINAR

Tickets are one sale for the Organics Made Simple Webinar starting February 5, led by Juli Ogden. This webinar will give you everything you need to know to get your aquaponic or hydroponic farm certified Organic!

Commercial Aquaponics Breakout Discussions

By Brian Filipowich

At the Putting Out Fruits Conference in September, 2019 we held breakout discussions for Commercial Aquaponics, Community Aquaponics, and Aquaponics Research & Education. These small-group discussions allowed all participants to provide input on how we can work together to advance aquaponics in each area.

This article reviews participants’ input from the Commercial Aquaponics discussions from Friday and Sunday.

On Friday, we asked participants what they view as the main roadblocks to advancing Commercial Aquaponics. Participants identified the following issues:

  • Public Awareness
    The aquaponics community needs to be better at educating consumers about the quality and benefits of aquaponic fish and produce. And we need to do better garnering political support for our cause.
  • The Aquaponic Workforce
    Because modern aquaponics is still new, there is an inadequate supply of specialized labor with aquaponics knowledge. And, there is a long, steep learning curve to bring new employees up to speed.
  • Pest Management
    Pest management can be tricky in aquaponics because many pesticides in normal agriculture may not be safe for the aquaponic ecosystem, which also includes fish and bacteria. Monoculture growing in a greenhouse can make this even more difficult because some insects may proliferate once they find a large crop they like.
  • Infrastructure
    Some growers have a tough time accessing affordable infrastructure like electricity and water.
  • Financing
    Most banks and insurance companies don’t understand aquaponics.
  • Regulations
    Some growers run into unforeseen regulatory issues, and a lack of scientific study to address food safety and regulatory questions.
  • Are “fish veggies” yucky?
    Some consumers believe that plants grown in an aquaponic system may not be safe to eat because of the fish. Others think the fruits and veggies might taste like fish! (they don’t)

Then, on Sunday, we asked participants if they had ideas how we can work together to advance Commercial Aquaponics. Participants identified the following ideas:

  • New Technologies
    New technologies that make aquaponics more efficient will save money and help commercial growers’ bottom lines. One specific example was nano-bubble technology.
  • Connecting Growers
    An online map that displays aquaponic farms, training centers, and suppliers will help growers connect and identify resources and advice.
  • Extension Agents
    Land-grant colleges offer extension services to spread agriculture information to farmers. Because aquaponics is new, some colleges know much more about aquaponics than others. It is inefficient for growers to struggle with problems when an extension agent in another state already knows the solution. By improving aquaponics knowledge among extension agents nationwide we can save growers time and energy rather than recreating the wheel state-by-state.
  • Baseline Standard Operating Procedures
    Establishing baseline Aquaponics Standard Operating Procedures would let all growers and outside stakeholders know exactly what occurs in an aquaponic system. This will prevent mistakes from growers, and prevent misinformation spreading among outside parties. Such standards could also include lists of acceptable and unacceptable materials or supplements to use in an aquaponics system.
  • Grants and Funding
    More funding would speed up the advances in technology and business practices and bring aquaponic production to the mainstream faster.
  • Legal / Regulatory Representation
    The aquaponics community needs to be able to address legal and regulatory issues that have the potential to set back – or push forward – the entire industry. For example, a major food safety certifier recently announced it would phase out aquaponics eligibility in 2020, based on unfounded concerns. The Aquaponics Association has responded with the 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement. Other examples include working Congress to fund the new USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, which is intended to be the USDA’s central hub for aquaponics and other new agriculture techniques; keeping aquaponics eligible for Organic certification; and including aquaponics in the 2018 Farm Bill. As the industry grows, so will misinformation. We must be ready to speak out with one voice when these circumstances occur.

2020 Conference Survey

2020 Conference Survey

The Association Board is considering five locations for the 2020 conference next Fall. Here are the options, listed East to West as the sun travels:

  • Durham/Portsmouth, New Hampshire / University of New Hampshire
  • Dallas, Texas / Texas A&M University
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma / Symbiotic Aquaponic, Redlands Community College
  • Denver, Colorado / Colorado Aquaponics
  • Sacramento, California / University of California, Davis

 

2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement Sign-on

Dear Aquaponics Growers,

At the Putting Out Fruits conference last month, we all agreed that it was important for our community to make a positive statement asserting the food safety status of aquaponics. Part of the motivation was that a major food safety certifier, Canada GAP, recently announced it will revoke certification for aquaponic farms in 2020, citing unfounded concerns.

The withdrawal of aquaponics eligibility from this certifier has already set back commercial operations in Canada.

We believe that the aquaponics community must make a positive statement asserting our food safety credentials to ensure that policy and large-scale decisions that affect our future are based on concrete science, not unfounded concerns.

We are collecting signatures on the 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement from farms, research institutions, schools, and other organizations that stand behind it and would like your voice to be heard.

If you would like your farm or organization to sign on, click the link below. The deadline to sign the statement is November 15, 2019. Once we collect all the signatures we will publish and broadcast the statement, and ask you to do the same.

Click here to read the statement and, if you choose, sign on: 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement.

Best regards,

Brian Filipowich, Chairman
Aquaponics Association

info@aquaponicsassociation.org

Conference Theme Announcement: Putting Out Fruits

This year’s Aquaponics Association Annual Conference theme is “Putting Out Fruits”. Putting Out Fruits will take place in Frankfort, Kentucky at Kentucky State University on September 20 – 22nd, 2019. 

Head to the Putting Out Fruits homepage for ticket info. (http://bit.ly/2UuUzxz)

The aquaponics movement is expanding rapidly, and the Aquaponics Association’s annual conferences are growing along with it. Two years ago we were in Portland, Oregon for “Putting Down Roots”; and last year we were in Hartford, Connecticut for “Putting Up Shoots”. Finally, this year’s theme reflects the culmination of our journey as we take the next step learning and growing together. We will produce tangible “fruits” to advance the practice of aquaponics, both for individual growers and for the aquaponics movement as a whole.

A major component of the Conference will be the tour and interactive session at the KSU Aquaculture Research Center. This Center hosts one of the most advanced aquaculture research programs in the nation, including indoor aquaponics research systems, saltwater aquaponics research, a 30’ x 70’ aquaponics demonstration greenhouse, a 10,000sq foot recirculating aquaculture research building, and 33 research ponds.

We’ve heard from many of you through our online survey [thank you for your input!] and we are excited to focus this year’s content around the following hot topics:

–    Integrated pest management

–    Nutrient deficiencies and nutrient supplementation

–    STEM curriculum and classroom aquaponics

–    Growing cannabis in controlled environments

–    Food safety

–    Organic certification

–    International case studies

–    “Green” solution applications

–    Successes with higher risk / higher reward and non-typical crops in aquaponics

–    Post-secondary aquaponics research

Conference attendees will walk away with cutting edge information, new connections and a greater understanding of core knowledge and best practices. In addition to farm-to-table tours and hands on activities, learning tracks will focus on Aquaponics Research, STEM Education, hobby/home aquaponics, commercial farming, and community based endeavors. Interactive sessions will allow all participants to discuss and plan what we can do together to advance aquaponics.

As always, the Conference will feature top aquaponics experts and a vendor showroom of aquaponics technology and services.

We are also still looking for presenters to cover the following topics: aquaculture and fish diseases (recognition and treatment); filtration and biofiltration; automation of aquaponics systems (feeding, monitoring, etc.); and case studies of successful small / medium / large growing facilities. Please submit presentation proposals by July 15.

To purchase your ticket and/or to submit a presentation proposal, please visit https://aquaponicsassociation.org/2019-conference/.

We hope to see you in Kentucky!

Kate Wildrick
Senior Advisor & Conference Planner
Aquaponics Association

Aquaponics in Prisons (1/3) — Saving Taxpayers Money

Officer Michael “Mac” McLeon is using aquaponics to transform the Texas Prison System.

Mac’s team set a goal to use aquaponics and grow a salad per day for their entire unit, including inmates AND the officers since they share the same meals. They are currently well on their way to the goal – at one salad every two weeks.

And this is not some limp-leaved lump of soggy lettuce… these are good salads! (see pic below). In addition to lettuce, the program also grows sun-loving fruiting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, and fresh herbs for the dressing!

The Aquaponics Association has been supporting Mac in his efforts to spread aquaponics to prisons nationwide. Recently, Aquaponics Association Senior Advisor Kate Wildrick interview Mac and uncovered three key takeaways.

Check out the Exclusive Interview with Officer Mac: How Aquaponics is Transforming the Texas Prison System  (http://bit.ly/2HE7zJI)

Aquaponics in Prisons Saves Taxpayer Money

Macs interview revealed three key points. In this post, we’ll discuss the first key point: aquaponics in prisons can save taxpayers money in a variety of ways.

For starters, aquaponics directly reduces the amount of food that prisons must purchase by supplementing meals with onsite produce. The cost to grow crops inside the prison is minimal. Mac estimates that he saves the State of Texas $0.40 for every head of lettuce they grow. Imagine how much they could save Texas taxpayers with a bigger operation!

In addition to the direct savings of growing their own food, aquaponics in prisons can save taxpayers money in two major long-term ways: 1) lower inmate healthcare costs from dietary based diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure; and 2) reduced recidivism by giving inmates a meaningful, rewarding skill they can employ once released.

In some states, the cost per inmate can be up to $60,000 per year. Mac notes that most inmates will one day be released. Aquaponics can give these citizens a positive skill to keep them from backsliding into the system, which is a major cost.

Stay tuned for the next two Key Points of Aquaponics in Prisons!

New Aquaponics Production System Offers Educational Opportunities 

New Aquaponics Production System Offers Educational Opportunities

The Chicago Botanic Garden has announced the launch of a 52,000-gallon aquaponics
production system, which will bring 2,500 heads of local and sustainably grown lettuce to the Lawndale
neighborhood of Chicago every week. The aquaponics system operates at the Farm on Ogden, a project
of the Chicago Botanic Garden and Lawndale Christian Health Center. The Farm on Ogden is one of the
first of its kind in the nation to support and sustain a healthy urban community by bringing food,
health, and jobs together in one location. It is home to Windy City Harvest, the Garden’s urban
agriculture education and jobs-training initiative.

In coordination with the aquaponics production system launch, the Farm on Ogden is
offering two educational opportunities: a one-day workshop or three-day intensive course. The one-day
workshop is for participants interested in learning about the fundamental principles of aquaponics
production, as well as tips and tricks for building an at-home or small-scale aquaponics system. This
course, offered on June 8, October 12 and December 7, will include hands-on work with the nursery
system and the 52,000-gallon aquaponics production system.

The three-day intensive course is for aquaponics professionals, job seekers in the expanding controlled
environment growing industry, and people or educators interested in learning how to grow food more
sustainably in cold weather environments. This course, offered May 17-19, September 13-15 and
November 8-10, is a unique opportunity to learn the nuances of designing, building, and operating a
large-scale aquaponic production system and train on a system with an innovative filtration design not
seen in any of the existing training courses or aquaponics operations in the country.

For more information about opportunities to train on the state-of-the-art facility in Chicago,
visit chicagobotanic.org/urbanagriculture/aquaponics.

Take the Global Aquaponic Practitioner Survey

Click: Head to the Global Aquaponic Practitioner Survey

A group of researchers from the University of Washington on an international project – Cityfood – is running a global aquaponics survey.

This survey will provide researchers with real-world information about existing aquaponic systems and farms which define current practices. Using results from this survey, researchers aim to connect and empower aquaponic farmers, researchers and decision-makers.

The survey only takes 15-20 minutes to complete and will help researchers compile a report on the state of the field. As a participant, you will receive access to the report immediately after its release.

The Cityfood interdisciplinary team of aquaculture specialists, architects, and urban planners is jointly supported by the US National Science Foundation and the EU Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative/ Belmont Forum. This cohort sees aquaponics as a promising technology that can simultaneously address global challenges in the food, water, and energy sectors.

Survey link: https://redcap.csde.washington.edu/surveys/index.php?s=FRK4HKX78L