Water-Smart Food

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Water-Smart Food

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How can we grow produce, while conserving water at the same time? @VIUniversity is using #Aquaponics to do just that http://3bl.me/547afb

Summary

It’s been around for centuries, but only recently has this technology garnered renewed attention in both commercial and research sectors. Aquaponics, a type of integrated food production system, is a method of growing fish and plants in the same water. What makes aquaponics special? These fully contained, 100% re-circulating water systems set the standard for maximizing local water resources.

Monday, August 31, 2015 - 7:00am

CONTENT: Blog

It’s been around for centuries, but only recently has this technology garnered renewed attention in both commercial and research sectors. Aquaponics, a type of integrated food production system, is a method of growing fish and plants in the same water. What makes aquaponics special? These fully contained, 100% re-circulating water systems set the standard for maximizing local water resources.

Water conservation has become a hot topic on the West Coast of Canada and the U.S., as we continue to experience one of the driest summers in recent history. There has been a lot of talk about “the blob” – a localized body of warm water on the Pacific Coast – and experts are watching to see what impact it will have on this this body of water when “Godzilla El Nino” enters into the Northern Hemisphere in late 2015 or early 2016.  

The months of drought and strict water restrictions have arguably hit farmers the hardest as they were left scrambling to meet market needs. Traditional sources for fresh produce coming into Canada from areas such as California – one of the worst areas affected by the drought – could become less dependable for imports into British Columbia, leaving more consumers looking to buy local.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO), it takes approximately 3000-litres to produce a person’s daily food needs. This presents us with the challenge of finding new and innovative ways to grow food without over-taxing our local water resources. Dr. Daniel Baker and his team at Vancouver Island University (VIU) may have found a solution that both conserves water and feeds a growing appetite for local foods. Overseeing two 5-metric tonne aquaponics systems over the last 3 years, funded by MITACS and Taste of BC Aquafarms Inc., the team at VIU has been successful in growing various leafy greens, fruiting vegetables and grains.

Aquaponics systems work in the simple manner of: feed the fish, and the fish will feed the plants. Fish are fed a high-protein diet which, when broken down in the animal, is excreted as ammonia into the water. The ammonia is consumed by bacteria and excreted as nitrite, which is then consumed by another population of bacteria and converted into nitrate, becoming plant-food.

Baker admits there is a growing recognition that the traditional way of doing things is not going to be dependable in the future, and that we need to start looking at alternatives. Not only are aquaponics systems better for the environment – by promoting water conservation and reducing carbon emissions related to importing food – but the produce grown from them is better than commercial products. The tanks are like mini ecosystems, and that resonates with consumers who appreciate how both fish and produce are cultivated through natural, biological processes.

“What we found is that our products smell great, taste great, and people really prefer them over the monoculture products that come out of the grocery stores, which are sometimes grown in nutrient poor soil, have travelled a long way, or are harvested too early,” said Baker.

The VIU team initially began their research with tilapia, a tropical fish, since growth and metabolic processes occur faster in warmer temperatures. A year and a half ago they began exploring with non-tropical fish in hopes of discovering how much they can lower water temperatures to reduce the energy needed to heat the large tanks before plant growth begins to suffer. Baker says his team has been able to successfully replace the tilapia with white sturgeon and they are hoping to begin researching salmonids in September.

One Agassiz salmon farm has already made the leap into cold water. President of Golden Eagle Aquaculture Terry Brooks and his son Alex are growing lettuce with Coho salmon, and Brooks says the project has been successful, “It’s hard to believe when you see these plants growing in the same water the fish are living in, where nothing else is added and the plants are thriving.”

Brooks says he hopes the project is a start in understanding how to make aquaponics, coupled to a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), commercially viable in B.C. “In our climate, on a large scale, warm water isn’t practical. What we’re trying to do is explore what would work in a more temperate zone.”

Aquaponics is an age-old technology that we’re still learning about, but as systems continue to develop and improve, this water-conscious technology could revolutionize the future of food production.

Keywords: Responsible Production & Consumption | Aquaponics | BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) | Golden Eagle Aquaculture | Sustainable Living | Vancouver Island University (VIU)

CONTENT: Blog

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