The demand for urban produce is becoming more and more difficult to meet. In the year 2020, more than 56.2% of the Earth’s population lived within an urban or city environment. Health-conscious urbanites are showing greater interest in farm-to-table opportunities as well as purchasing from farmers markets. Shipping times from rural locations to city shelves are lengthening as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to food shortages and a nutrition deficit. The rise of foodborne illness is another concern as less fresh produce may spoil during the longer shipping process.
It’s clear that the current system of urban produce production will not be enough to sustain long-term demand. For this reason, thousands of agricultural experts and scientists have been forging a new path toward sustainability.
Of the many systems of sustainable agriculture in development, few are as highly publicized as aquaponics.
“Aquaponics is the future. I know this without a doubt,” says Douglas Tarlow, a graduate student in Tempe, Arizona. “I think we’re going to start feeding the world with science innovations via aquaponics very soon. The groundwork has been set, and we will see great advancements within the next few years.”
Experts in the field of agriculture agree that water-based growing systems hold a great deal of potential for growers of any size. The ability to rear popular fish species, coupled with a variety of leafy greens and root plants, allows for vertical growth at large and small capacities.
There are innumerable benefits associated with the use of aquaponics. Recent studies suggest that hydroponic growing systems have the potential to eliminate some of the world’s most dangerous foodborne pathogens, including e. coli. Coldblooded mammals like fish are unable to host e. coli in their bodies, adding further protections against accidental contamination.
According to various studies, soilless growing methods are extremely low risk for microbes and pathogenic substances, ranging from compost to manures. Other bacteria, including salmonella, are greatly reduced due to a lack of organic planting medium. Aquaponics has been certified by several health-based agricultural organizations touting its strength in the marketplace as an agent of change.
An added bonus to the aquaponic growing method is the need for limited growing space. Many types of aquaponic plants are grown in a greenhouse setting, ranging in size according to a community’s needs. Because these systems take up far less space and are associated with smaller plot sizes, they lend themselves to growing opportunities in rural and urban settings. Greater access to fresh fish and vegetables will drastically improve the health and wellness of a community, significantly reducing food-insecure households.
Aquaponic growing systems are extremely beneficial for under-deserved communities, especially those with restricted access to vegetables and proteins. Hydroponics-based growing systems allow neighborhoods to develop self-sustaining agricultural opportunities and provide a source of education, nutrition, and income for those involved. By rearing a widely consumed fish species such as Tilapia, local growers could market their products to a large audience of consumers. Households would be able to have direct access to staple produce options, including:
- Other greens
It’s clear that there is a great deal of viability for aquaponics in small-scale urban environments.
Because of their protected greenhouse setting, aquaponics systems also help to reduce the risk of pollution or pesticide contamination. A non-organic growing medium reduces the number of insects and pests able to overwinter, while protected greenhouse environments stave off larger mammals such as deer and groundhogs. This, in turn, leads to a noticeable lack of pesticides for growers and their plants. Fewer pesticides in the body have been associated with stronger immune systems and fewer chronic illnesses, allowing urbanites to live their lives to the fullest.
Heightened grower efficiency is an additional benefit of urban aquaponic farming. Many modern farmers are dependent on a monoculture system that saps vital resources from multiple locations. Watering, fertilizing, and harvesting periods are segmented into different times of the year. In contrast, aquaponic systems combine all three elements into a single process. Food is continuously nurtured and harvested throughout the growing process. Water sources are imbued with fertilizer which will eventually be sanitized by plant growth. This highly efficient process could be adapted by farmers at any level of experience.
Truthfully, aquaponic systems are easy to learn and use for anyone, not just career farmers. The system is relatively straightforward and easily navigated after basic instruction. For this reason, aquaponic learning programs should be offered within urban communities or neighborhoods, providing the education necessary to equip growers with innovative systems and small-scale agriculture opportunities. Some sources suggest that teaching interested learners about growing their own food could be one way to eliminate food insecurity.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of in-city aquaponics involves the reduction of steep transportation costs. The movement, positioning, and logistics of food-based shipping can be extremely complicated and lead to a loss of product during busy seasons. This reduces the urban residents’ ability to source healthful, ripe produce at an affordable cost. Producing food within city limits increases the number of choices that families can choose from, ultimately improving their opportunities to eat healthful, balanced meals.
Aquaponics is an excellent solution for urban produce needs, especially in a rapidly-growing world. Its continued adoption across American cities will likely take a few more decades, but continuous innovation will add new elements of growth to an already cutting-edge medium and encourage new growers to take advantage of evolving opportunities.