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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3 thoughts on “Urban Farming with Aquaponics

  1. After several years, Sweet Water Organics in Milwaukee has yet to turn a profit despite claims that they would by dates that have long since passed. I don’t know if it should be said that they are “making aquaponics work.” Not that it can’t be done, however, but do some due diligence before considering copying their particular business model.

  2. CSS,
    Sweet Water may be having trouble but Will Allen and Growing Power in Milwaukee are doing very well for the community, if not financially.

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