Earth Day Open House

Please come to our open house on Saturday, April 19th from 2-4PM in our new south side facility in the basement of 401 Bingham St., Pittsburgh PA. Technically, Earth Day is April 22…but why wait?

Aquaponics open houseWe have built an indoor Aquaponic system that is just getting ramped up to full food production capacity:

  • a 4′ x 8′ media grow bed
  • a 4′ x 8′ deep water culture trough with floating rafts
  • 1 Swirl filter

All connected to a 400 gallon circular fish tank and illuminated by high-efficient induction lamps.

We’re growing organically:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat grass
  • Cabbage
  • Blue Nile Tilapia

Please come with your questions and curiosity. We’re eager to show and teach you about Aquaponics.

Books, aquaponics parts and starter aquaponcics systems will be available for purchase.

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New Ken Man Brings Aquaponics to Haiti

Aquaponics in HaitiSource: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

One goal of Give Hope Global is an aquaponics project to help make the orphanage self-sufficient.

The first step is to build pools to raise tilapia. Then, the water from the fish pools in channeled into water gardens by way of a solar-power system. The water is recirculated back into the pools. Tom Roberts designed and built the sheds over the aquaponics tanks.

The gardens will allow orphanage residents to grow vegetables in a series of areas 50 feet by 4 feet wide.

“We built the first 12-foot-round pool in October,” Roberts says.

When the operation is at full force, Cambry residents will be able to produce 600 pounds of tilapia and 2,500 pounds of vegetables each month.

“This can result in more healthy food for the orphans, income and jobs for the people there,” Braswell says. “Tom and Scott were instrumental in getting this off the ground. Your town should be proud of Thomas Roberts. Just to see him there — the Haitian kids really gravitated to him.”

Braswell says each module for the pools and gardens cost $22,000. Give Hope Global hopes to build seven initially, then add more. The pools will run on solar-generated electricity, with solar panels installed at the top of the pools.

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Door Campaign Aims to Teach Aquaponics on North Side

Pittsburgh Aquaponics has been approached to assist this project and will do so where it can. Having a location and some old greenhouse equipment is a great start.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Door Campaign is weeks old and already has a board of directors, two sites for an innovative leadoff project and associations with high school and college mentors.

“The idea is to get young African-American men to show the community that we can be the change,” he said. “We’re trying to expose our demographic to a different world. The door in the Door Campaign is the one that opened to me.”

A recent alumnus of CORO’s Next Leaders program on the North Side, Mr. Swatson came up with the idea of an aquaponics studio — a climate-controlled chamber in which fish and vegetables grow together in a symbiotic nutrient cycle. There are a variety of set-ups that include an aquarium for the fish with the produce in a tier above.

The basic concept is that the fish provide the fertilizer for the plants to grow. The environment has to be controlled so that sunlight, water temperature, nitrogen, oxygen and ammonia levels are kept in balance.

The details of the plan are still being worked out, but the fish and the plants they fertilize would be used for consumption. The fish, possibly perch or tilapia, would be housed in large freshwater tanks.

Mr. Swatson found a supportive ally in Renita Freeman, director of the Urban League’s Family Support Center in Northview Heights, where the studio will be located in a 19-by-15-foot former greenhouse.

A demonstration model also is being planned for a site in Manchester, where more people can see “and wrap their heads around plants growing with fish,” said Mr. Swatson, a student at the Community College of Allegheny County.

One benefit of aquaponics is that it solves the problem of contaminated urban soil that traditional gardens have to overcome. Another is that you get fish.

“The Door Campaign will raise food to give to the community, and we have established some collaborations with North Side restaurants to purchase the fish,” Mr. Swatson said.

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Youngstown High School Opens Aquaponics Greenhouse

Youngstown high school aquaponicsSource:

The first crop has already been harvested from the aquaponics lab at Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown.

Several varieties of lettuce grown by the students were picked and sold to school personnel.

“It was delicious,” said Renee English, Choffin spokeswoman.

Aquaponics — the cultivation of fish and vegetation in a closed ecosystem — is a new program this year at Choffin. School officials believe it’s the first in Ohio.

Antwan Anderson, 16, a sophomore at Choffin, said the students are growing beans and squash as well as the lettuce in a greenhouse on the school campus. He has another crop in mind.

“I’d like to grow tomatoes,” he said.

The vegetables grow with water from tilapia housed in tanks in the building’s basement, Antwan explained.

A series of pipes and pumps connect the tanks to the vegetable garden beds upstairs. Waste from the fish fertilizes the plant beds, and the plant beds filter the water that goes back into the tank.

Sophomore Jamee Robertson, 15, likes the aquaponics program and said the best part is being able to see the fruits (and vegetables) of her labor. She’s grown strawberries with her family at home but the class marked a first for lettuce.

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Happy as a Clam with Aquaponics

Tom Bryan, at first glance, would not appear to be a likely Aquaponic gardener.

Frank Bryan, Inc. circa 1880's

Frank Bryan Inc., circa 1880’s

Tom’s family has been in the rock, gravel and cement business for over 130 years. His great, great grandfather, Frank Bryan, founded Frank Bryan, Inc., a gravel and concrete business on the historic South Side in 1883.

Their primary business is in dredging the rivers of Western Pa for the raw rocks and materials found on the bottoms of rivers and using it for construction material, mostly concrete. Today, Frank Bryan is the largest concrete manufacturer in the tri-state region.

So, how did Tom Bryan get into Aquaponics? As it turns out, the rivers of Western PA had been so polluted for so many years, that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) didn’t concern itself with Frank Bryan, Inc., until recently.

Dredging for rock

Dredging for rock on the Ohio river

Now that the rivers and streams of our region are recovering nicely, mostly due to the decline of the local steel industry since the 1980’s, the PA DEP has been taking a closer look at the possible impacts the Bryan family business may have on the local environment.

In particular, PA DEP is concerned about the local freshwater mussel population. As the Bryans dredge the local waters for the rich aggregate to make concrete, some live mussels inevitably get captured and killed.

There are over 300 different kinds of freshwater mussels in the United States and Canada. They generally look like clams and provide a vital function in a river’s ecosystem by eating algae and bacteria. Freshwater mussels are also a vital food source for racoons and other small mammals.

IBC tote bins for growing tilapia and algae

IBC tote bins for tilapia and algae

This is where Tom Bryan got creative with Aquaponics. He thought if there were a way to take the captured mussels from his operations, and bring them to full health, he could release them back into the wild.

In June of this year, Tom created an alternative, temporary habitat for some mussels using an Aquaponic setup in his Neville Island research facility. An IBC tote bin filled with Tilapia feeds another water tank that is used to grow algae. The algae eat the fish waste and the algae water is then fed to the mussels in a third tank. The mussels happily eat the algae and the water is returned to the Tilapia tank, cleaned of algae and fish waste.

Freshwater mussels and aquaponics

Freshwater mussels growing in an Aquaponic system producing algae

Whereas traditional Aquaponic gardeners will use the nutrient rich fish waste to grow vegetables, Tom Bryan is using Aquaponics to grow algae to feed to his mussels while they are temporarily away from their natural habitat.

So far, Tom has killed only one mussel out of 79. He has an interesting setup where a video camera records the slow movements of the mussels over long periods of time. Because they move so slowly, it is very hard for humans to notice their movements.

Tom calls his setup a “spa for mussels” and it is in an experiment to see if he reclaim some wayward mussels who get caught in the Bryan dredging operations. I call it another creative, inventive use of Aquaponics.

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Aquaponics for Challenged People

I have had several discussions with advocates for the socially and physically disadvantaged about Aquaponic gardening. Battered women, traumatized soldiers, alcoholics and the autistic could all benefit from the joy of Aquaponic gardening in Pittsburgh. Here is a story from Akron, OH that illustrates the opportunity:

Aquaponics for Developmentally challengedSource: Houston Chronicle

The sight of a tankful of tilapia gobbling the food he’d given them made Scott Geistweite smile.

Every day, the Akron, Ohio, resident checks and feeds the fish in an aquaponics system at Bridges, a vocational center for adults with developmental disabilities. In the seven months he’s been helping to maintain the food-growing system, Geistweite’s verbal skills have skyrocketed, said Laura Gerlich, Bridges’ director.

It’s just one of the unintended benefits that have been reaped along with the beans and salad greens since Bridges started getting its clients involved in gardening.

Bridges is operated by Ardmore Inc., an agency that serves developmentally disabled people in Summit County, Ohio. The center provides recreation, continuing education and vocational training, and recently it has added gardens, an aquaponics system and chickens to the mix.

Ardmore bought the property last year with the intention of using its 10 acres for gardening. When it hired construction company F.G. Ayers Inc. to renovate the building’s interior, the project got an extra boost.

Ayers’ president and office manager, Lance and Cheryl Schmidt, are sustainability advocates.

The Schmidts suggested the aquaponics system, a setup that combines hydroponic gardening and raising fish in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Water from a fish tank in the Bridges lobby circulates through a growing bed atop an old brick planter, where plants grow under lights in a soilless medium. Fish waste in the water supplies nutrients that fertilize the plants, and in turn, the plants and the pebbles they grow in clean the water before it’s returned to the tank.

The system was installed in December and has been “very engaging” for the clients, who are often eager to show visitors what they’ve grown, Cheryl Schmidt said.

One of those whose attention it captured was Geistweite, who has autism. The sound of water trickling into the tank calms him, Gerlich explained, and the job of monitoring and feeding the fish has developed his sense of responsibility.

The aquaponics system is growing crops chosen by the Bridges participants – jalapeño peppers, chives, carrots, spinach and several types of lettuce. A salad they made from the first lettuce harvest was gone in minutes, Gerlich said.


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Aquaponics Lands in Penn St.

Not all is doom and gloom in Happy Valley these days…

Source: Penn St.

Penn St. AquaponicsAfter spending five days this spring studying aquaponics at the University of Arizona, College of Agricultural Sciences student Jessica Foster and greenhouse manager Scott DiLoreto are developing the first aquaponic system at Penn State…

DiLoreto heard from a colleague about the aquaponics course — an intensive, five-day look at “controlled-environment agriculture” — offered at the University of Arizona and suggested that he and Foster attend to learn more before taking on the project.

“We were there pretty much from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon,” DiLoreto said. “There was a lot of information presented. But I was really impressed by how focused she stayed through it all.”

They learned a lot, Foster said.

“The program covered a range of topics, from basic plant needs to greenhouse engineering,” she said. “And one whole day was dedicated to aquaponics, taught by international experts.”

Aquaponics differs from hydroponics in that hydroponics relies on the addition of nutrient salts to the water to grow plants, rather than relying on the nutrients naturally occurring in fish waste.

“Aquaponics is the coupling of two biological systems,” DiLoreto explained. “The plants feed off the fish and the fish purify the water for the plants — so at the end you have two products, fish and plants. It’s a much more natural process.”

He noted that sustainable methods are used in aquaponic greenhouses. “You can’t use most pesticides because they’re toxic to fish,” he said. “One needs to focus primarily on biological pest management.”

DiLoreto added that he believes aquaponic systems go hand-in-hand with increased interest in greener, sustainable agricultural practices and organic and locally-grown foods.

Current plans for the Penn State aquaponics system include using two 300-gallon tanks to grow tilapia, and a large hydroponics area where basil, lettuce,  and micro-greens will be grown.

Foster, who hopes to start her own aquaponics business after she graduates, felt that the most important lesson she learned from the University of Arizona course was that developing an aquaponic system is entirely feasible.

“There’s definitely a market for aquaponics. People already have begun growing things this way,” she said. “It’s just exciting to know that I have the opportunity to expand upon it.”

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Urban Farming with Aquaponics

If Chicago and Milwaukee can make Aquaponics work, there is no reason Pittsburgh can’t.

Source: Food First

SweetwaterOrganicThe urban farming movement is gaining momentum. But for areas with limited or contaminated greenspace or a short growing season, aquaponics can be an alternative agricultural system. This new type of urban farm has popped up in underused and empty industrial spaces in a number of declining urban centers.

The aquaponic system was pioneered by Will Allen at his non-profit farm Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The vertical farming model pairs fish production with hydroponically grown vegetables. Ammonia excreted by the fish is consumed by bacteria and converted into a nitrate form. These nitrates are a natural fertilizer for hydroponic lettuce and other greens. The water, filtered by the plants, is returned to the fish tank completing a closed loop water cycle. These production systems echo the permaculture principles of waste reduction and integrating natural cycles to build symbiotic relationships. The need for commercial hydroponic fertilizer is eliminated and water waste is reduced to only minimal loss from evaporation.

Sweet Water Organics, also of Milwaukee, has taken the model and adapted to a for-profit operation. The farm takes up residence in a revitalized warehouse, reintroducing productive work to the declining area, contributing to urban revival. Operations such as these create jobs and a local food source in the neighborhood. Co-owner James Godsil said “If the Sweet Water experiment can prove commercially viable, that would be cause for great hope for our Great Lakes Heartland cities of 10,000 under-used or unused vintage factory buildings.” The sustainable model of the company helped Milwaukee win IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge grant to develop more technology intensive urban farming. Technological research is striving to increase the intensity of production and the efficient use of resources to reduce waste.

Additionally aquaponics extend the biodiversity of the urban agricultural landscape. 312 Aquaponics in Chicago produces greens, herbs, strawberries and tilapia. Grown in a humid greenhouse environment, production can continue into the winter, lengthening the availability of local food from seasonal to year-round. A spokesperson for the Mayor of Chicago states, “The mayor correctly believes that [312 Aquaponics] can have a tremendous impact on these neighborhoods, both in terms of jobs and healthy food.”

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Recirculating farming

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Doug Oster’s May 26 article “Recycled Aquarium Water Benefits Goldfish and Seedlings” highlights home aquaponics, a soilless method of gardening that pairs hydroponics (growing plants in water) with raising fish (aquaculture). Readers should be aware that aquaponics is more than a rewarding home hobby — it’s also an innovative form of agriculture that produces fresh, healthy foods in an ecologically sound way.

Aquaponics is a type of recirculating farming and is what it sounds like — a way to grow food using constantly cleaned and recycled (recirculated) water. Because these farms are closed-loop systems, they can keep parasites and diseases out more easily, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Because recirculating farms use water rather than soil as the medium to grow food, they are especially useful in urban environments, where soil may be paved over or contaminated. This gives city residents access to fresh, local, eco-friendly food and creates new green job opportunities.

An aquaponics system can be as small as a desktop, or much larger for family, neighborhood or community use. Even if readers don’t build their own recirculating garden, they can enjoy the fruits of this unique method of growing by supporting local recirculating farms. Pittsburgh’s own Shadyside Nursery, which raises tilapia, herbs and heirloom vegetables, is one of an ever-increasing number of recirculating farms operating across the country. We encourage readers to find a recirculating farm near them at

Executive Director
Recirculating Farms Coalition
New Orleans, La.

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