HELEN BURTON: Is growing food using aquaponics the future?

Helen Burton SUS-150709-171138001
Helen Burton SUS-150709-171138001

Amidst the excitement of the Paris climate change agreement this week I went to a project in Sussex which is working on a more environmentally friendly, sustainable way of producing food. Aquaponic Life (www.facebook.com/aquaponiclife) is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company that is developing ways to use Aquaponics in a home environment. The couple running the project Emerald and Neil hope to create systems that anyone can use, and their commitment is impressive.

Aquaponics is combining hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (growing fish/aquatic organisms) in order to produce a sustainable closed loop system. The water used to keep the fish is pumped through growing beds of various types where food plants can be grown. As the water passes through the growing beds the plants are able to take up the nutrient rich water, the water is filtered through the growing media in the process, and then it is returned to the fish tank ‘clean’. In effect, a completely self-contained eco system is created which requires very little maintenance to grow both fish and vegetables to eat. It is not just fish that can be farmed in this way either, crayfish, prawns and other shellfish can also be kept in this system. The fish need to be fed daily and the system requires a pond pump to run it which needs power. The couple estimate that the cost of running the pump is between £6-12 a month but of course if the power is produced by solar energy then the costs would be reduced even further. Not much space is needed, an area of 2m squared would feed two people. As a guide 1kg of fish grows 30-50 kilos of produce.

When I think of the heavy work required for a standard vegetable bed compared to the work required to run this system (and produce veg 2-3 times faster) the prospect of having a system at home becomes extremely attractive!

The couples’ commitment to making the system completely sustainable even extends to growing their own fish food, which they are experimenting with at the moment. Imagine the environmental difference it would make if we all grew our own fruit and veg at home and could even grow our own fish too. The solution that aquaponics offers us is not only self-sustaining but it also offers food security for the UK, reduces the environmental impact of overfishing our seas, reduces food miles and also our carbon footprint.

I was so inspired that next year I’m going to create an aquaponics set up at home as part of the project Incredible Edible Pevensey & Westham, we will also arrange a visit to Aquaponic Life. I think I will run my system on goldfish who will be named and not eaten, but it will be exciting to see how much food I can produce! If you want to get involved (particularly if you have plumbing skills) or perhaps even convert your aquarium or pond then do email me at ethicallifestyle@btinternet.com