The Atlantic has a piece about a farm in New York that is doing some interesting work in terms of plant and fish production. Vegetarianism is the least expensive (in terms of energy inputs) method of getting our bodies the fuel we need. The old rule of thumb is that it takes 10 pounds of grains to make one pound of meat. When you figure in many of the artificial products that have to be added to that system to make that one pound of meat in today’s industrial food system (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, steroids, etc.) you end up creating a very large footprint to keep a very few people stuffed to the gills with Big Macs. And given the tens or hundreds of millions of people who will be joining the ranks of the middle class throughout the world (*cough* China *cough*), in the coming years and decades, all wanting their own Big Macs we’ve crossing the line into unsustainable demand.
But, let’s face it. Vegetarianism ain’t for everyone. Heck, even I eat seafood (although I’m feeling increasingly hesitant given the serious overfishing issues) and, as in all complex problems, the answer isn’t likely to come in one, neat package but rather be a suite of measures with all address the problem in alternate ways.
So, how is this farm advancing that idea. Aquaponics.
In aquaponic systems, fish and plants are raised together in a mutually beneficial environment. The fish produce fertilizer for the plants; the plants cleanse the water for the fish…estimates that at Cabbage Hill a pound of fish food is converted into a quarter pound of fish and eight to ten pounds of produce, a veritable cornucopia of chard, bok choy, lettuce, mesclun, beet greens, kohlrabi, tatsoi, basil, parsley, cilantro, tomatoes, sorrel, and rosemary. The tilapia, his largest fish “crop” by total weight, feed on a 100-percent vegetarian diet, getting around a major environmental hurdle faced by farmers who raise carnivorous fish such as salmon, which eat meal made from herring, sardines, and anchovies, which are currently fished to their limit.
And the bottom line…
Aside from food for the fish, the operation is almost totally self-contained. A small amount of solid waste from the fish is filtered out and composted for application to raised-bed gardens outside the greenhouse. Ferry has to add an occasional scoop of lime to buffer acidity, much as a terrestrial gardener sweetens his soil. The greenhouse’s resident population of ladybugs, midges, and parasitic wasps preys on plant-eating insects, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.
The water, which would otherwise accumulate toxic levels of fish waste, was pumped continuously out into long, shallow troughs along the opposite wall. There, vegetables grew on polystyrene rafts, their roots dangling into the water, absorbing nitrites and phosphorous, purifying it before it was recirculated to the fish.
How cool is that?