Can Aquaponics Change the Food System?

Can Aquaponics Change the Food System?
  • Flourish Farms takes eco-friendly practices to the next level and uses about 11,000 gallons of water in total, which recirculates through a single pump over and over again.

  • GrowHaus, where Flourish Farms is housed, aims to provide healthy, affordable options to the neighborhood of Elyria-Swansea, a Colorado food desert.

In this episode of Sustain, we meet JD Sawyer, founder of Colorado Aquaponics, which houses an aquaponics farm known as Flourish Farms. “The food system is out of balance. We’ve got to figure out a way to have higher quality foods using less resources, period, or it’s not gonna work. It’s really gonna take a grassroots effort. Instead of fighting the model, we’re just gonna have to change it.” Says JD and he believes that Aquaponics can be the solution. 

Aquaponics is defined as an eco-friendly system that recirculates water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. 

Raising fish, including one-and-a-half to two-pound striped bass, is a huge part of the equation for Flourish Farms from both a financial and nutritional standpoint. “It’s a cheaper source of nutrients or fertilizer, if you will, than typical hydroponic solutions.”

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America's First Vegan-Certified Vertical Farm Leaps Into the Future of Agriculture

Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

In this episode of “Sustain,” we will learn how a former venture capitalist helped build Philadelphia’s first vertical farm, Metropolis Farms.

“I became obsessed with the idea that we could feed ourselves within cities. It started out as a hobby, became an obsession…” says Jack Griffin, president of Metropolis Farms, the first vegan-certified farm of America.

Metropolis Farms prides itself in growing over two million pounds of nutritious produce — without the need for harsh chemicals or animal products. On top of that, the farm uses far less space per square feet at a cost that is less than $2 billion to build.

The company has its own proprietary technology, which helps grow food more effectively and at a higher quality than conventional and organic farms can achieve. Through indoor vertical farming, the produce is not vulnerable to the weather, bugs, heavy metals, blight, and bacterial contaminations that are present in today’s outdoor agriculture.

At a recent TEDx talk event in Wilmington, N.C., Griffin explained “...the technology is accessible to anyone. It’s easy to use, cheap to build, and it’s profitable… For things to be sustainable, it has to be profitable!”

Metropolis Farms has been working closely with the city government of Philadelphia to help revitalize its economy through the creation of jobs and to achieve the shared vision of ending hunger.

“Let’s be honest! Some people don’t want hunger to end… They don’t, because they have a vested interest in the current system… The best way to win that struggle is to make sure that everyone has the technology,” Griffin added.

Metropolis Farms is currently building the world’s first solar-powered vertical farm which will be 100 percent energy-efficient and a step towards reducing its carbon footprint. A rainwater recapturing system is also built in, something many around the world have been looking into, but it  hadn’t been done. This farm is expected to be already growing crops by late fall 2016.

If everything goes according to plan and the initiative continues to get the support it has been fortunate to receive, Philadelphia is set to become the first vertical farm city in the world.

Graffiti Earth is Reducing Food Waste One Dish at a Time

Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

In this episode of “Sustain,” we will learn about the buy-ugly movement through the eyes of Chef Jehangir Mehta, a world-renowned chef who explores ways to reduce his food wastage footprint.

Mumbai-born Mehta, the runner-up on Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, attributes his innate ability to finding the best ways to reduce waste to being from a third-world country, like India.

“It doesn’t matter if you came from a rich family or not, it [waste] is just something you see on a day-to-day basis. It just becomes a part of your life.”

Mehta applies this conservationist philosophy to his Indian-inspired cuisine in his latest TriBeCa restaurant venture, Graffiti Earth, the new sibling to his popular East Village restaurant, Graffiti Food & Wine. There, he focuses more on a vegetable-forward menu (something he has always done, but never really emphasized on) along with integrating an environmentally-conscious approach to décor, with furniture made from renewable materials and even crockery.

“We don’t buy plate sets. They came from my family and friends. If you have unwanted sets, let me know.”

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food grown and produced in the United States never gets eaten. And an alarming 52 percent of fruits and vegetables that are being produced never make it to your fork. Mehta does not place the blame only on retailers, who have to deal with the pressures of having fully stocked displays and the expectations of cosmetic perfection, but he also accuses the consumer of exercising produce prejudice when they see a blemished fruit or vegetable and turn the other way.

“Are you going to buy a tomato, even if you know very clearly [you’re] going to make tomato sauce today, you could definitely buy a tomato which is a bit squished or [with] a dent, but will you do it?” asks Chef Jehangir Mehta rhetorically. “You are not doing it, so you can’t always blame the grocery store [for food waste] you have to blame the public, too!”

Generally, it’s hard to get produce scraps, however, Mehta has worked with many of the farmers he frequents in the market in other restaurant-unrelated projects and has had the chance to build positive relationships with them. These relationships mutually benefit each party, since farmers reduce food waste by giving away their blemished, twisted, deformed or “ugly” food, that they know consumers will not typically purchase, to a chef who would put the food to good use, and, in turn, Mehta receives the fruits and vegetables for free or at a discounted rate.

To learn more, watch the episode!

How a Denver Marketplace Is Localizing the Food Economy

How a Denver Marketplace Is Localizing the Food Economy

“There’s little things we can do to all take a step in the direction of changing and localizing our food economy. I think only when we start there is there ever going to be change,” says Kathryn Ardoin, food distribution coordinator at the GrowHaus, an indoor open farm, education center, and marketplace located in a Denver-based food desert called Elyria-Swanson Globeville. If you recall from our first episode of “Sustain,” the GrowHaus is located in the same space as aquaponics farm Flourish Farms, helmed by Colorado Aquaponics. In addition, the GrowHaus has its own on-site hydroponic farm.

“We can sell all the food, we can grow all the food, but if people don’t know why or what to buy or how to prepare it, how to store it, how to grow it themselves, then ultimately we’re just another for-profit store with no mission,” says Ardoin.

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Sustain: How Colorado Aquaponics Is Changing the Food System

“The food system is out of balance,” says JD Sawyer, founder of Colorado Aquaponics, which houses an aquaponics farm known as Flourish Farms. “We’ve got to figure out a way to have higher quality foods using less resources, period, or it’s not gonna work. It’s really gonna take a grassroots effort. Instead of fighting the model, we’re just gonna have to change it.”

Aquaponics is defined as an eco-friendly system that recirculates water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. 

Raising fish, including one-and-a-half to two-pound striped bass, is a huge part of the equation for Flourish Farms from both a financial and nutritional standpoint. “It’s a cheaper source of nutrients or fertilizer, if you will, than typical hydroponic solutions.”

Agriculture in general is the largest consumer of water worldwide, notes Sawyer. Flourish Farms uses about 11,000 gallons of water in total, which recirculates through a single pump over and over again. “In aquaponics, you can use five to ten percent of the water that you would otherwise use in traditional, soil-based agriculture, which is one-time use…and water, as you know, is a precious resource, so we’ve gotta figure out ways to grow more food with less water, and that’s really one of the most attractive elements of aquaponics.”

JD Sawyer, Colorado Aquaponics

JD Sawyer, Colorado Aquaponics

Flourish Farms

Flourish Farms

Fish tanks 

Fish tanks 

Inside the GrowHaus

Inside the GrowHaus

Flourish Farm services restaurants and markets within a five-mile radius. “All of our chefs, they want to have a personal connection with the farm,” says Sawyer. “A lot of what we do is based upon their demands, the products that they really need, week in and week out.” Flourish Farms doesn’t sell at retail or wholesale prices, but somewhere in between to ensure that each partnership is mutually beneficial. The increasing transparency of menu ingredients has allowed chefs and restaurant owners to communicate with guests where these products come from, educating them about aquaponics while giving Flourish Farms some additional buzz.

“The business model for the farm is really set up around plant and fish revenues, and anything else that is a derivative of the farm. So, anything we do in terms of education and consulting, that’s really a separate business model, and we don’t muddy the waters with the farm. Because we want to prove that the farm can stand on its own, that the plants and the fish can pay the bills.”

Just as admirable, the GrowHaus, in which Flourish Farms is housed, aims to provide healthy, affordable options to the neighborhood of Elyria-Swansea, a Colorado food desert with no grocery stores within a 2-mile radius. This area is known for being the most polluted zip code in Colorado. Essentially, the GrowHaus is a non-profit urban market, food hub, and education center located in Elyria-Swansea.

“To be able to produce food, to set up as an educational hub, to serve as a community center, it’s not only for food we grow here, but for farmers in the region to be able to bring their food into here, where the staff and volunteers of the GrowHaus can distribute that to the residents of the community has been tremendously impactful. And we want to see this happen in food desert communities around the world.”