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Fish Talk: Diving into aquaponics

Portable_fish_farm_at_growing_power

(Picture by charlie vinz from chicago – portable fish farm, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7913728)
Let’s talk fish. Take my word for it: It may not sound like the most glamorous of topics, but our swimming friends are potential game changers in the world of Personal Urban Farming (PUF).

I’ve mentioned aquaponics in the past, but have yet to expand on the topic. Especially for those who are new to alternative farming, this might be a method you don’t really know much about. Even if you are savvy on the pros and cons of aquaponics, it never hurts to reconsider the basics of what makes this technique a viable option (or not so viable option) as we brainstorm the future of PUF.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. As futuristic as the name may sound, experts in the field argue that the basic concept can be traced back thousands of years.

Essentially, aquaponics uses fish and plants . They rely on one another to live. Waste from the fish feeds the plants while the plants filter the water so that the fish have a healthy environment.

When people are first introduced to aquaponics, I’ve found that one of the most common reactions is concern regarding the amount of water that is required. If fish are involved, doesn’t that mean you will use more water than other growing methods would?

This is an important question to address, as water will only continue to become a more limited resource in decades to come.

Despite the ‘aqua’ in aquaponics, this method of alternative farming actually uses a very minimal amount of water comparatively. One source referred to it as “water recycling.” Aquaponics creates its own ecosystem that cleans the water as it passes through the growing plants. Water, then, is very intentionally used and retained by all steps of the process.

The only time that water is lost is during cleaning, during which an effective aquaponics setup will only lose about 10 percent. This percentage is already down considerably from what is was just a few years ago.

As an advocate for PUF, one of the most exciting aspects of aquaponics for me is the lack of restriction regarding location. Aquaponic systems have been set up in all types of spaces—indoors and outdoors, on land unsuitable for farming otherwise, in urban homes and small apartments.

In fact, if you want to create your own aquaponics system today, there are online tutorials and step-by-step videos that make it easy and affordable, as well as published studies showcasing successful urban setups around the world.

To prepare for your aquaponics system, take note that you will need to invest in quality fish food. This is probably the main item you will continuously need to add to keep this method of food production going.

Of course, there are a lot of questions you may have surrounding the details. Which fish are best? Which plants are best? Which combinations are most effective, and do I need to add any nutrients to my water?

This takes us back to the database that we’re currently working on putting together—a database that would essentially be a recipe box for PUF.

Scientists in the field continue to explore what the options and what works best. What’s exciting is that everyday people, like you and I, can join in that exploration and experimentation. With an online database to share our results, we will be able to make double the progress by learning from one another.

Until the database is up and running, rest assured that many types of fish and many types of plants have proven to work well in aquaponics. There are simplified lists available online that can help you start brainstorming which produce you would like to grow and which fish can help complete the cycle.

If you are still on the fence about trying aquaponics, I have one final bit of encouragement:

Last year, an article was published in the Journal of Science and Technology Education explaining a project in which students created their own aquaponics system. The report concluded that this group of young adults saw improved “sustainable development, social compromise, team work and cross-cultural communication skills” as a result of their collaboration.

Clearly, there is much to learn from aquaponics.

Just as the fish and plants need each other, we must rely on one another to continue advancing environmentally-friendly methods that can produce the food we need, where we need it most.

By |May 11th, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Beyond the Practical

Beyond the Practical

Independence, efficiency, climate change. I can think of a lot of practical reasons why growing your own food, even if you live in the city, is a smart idea.

Despite all of that, many people remain unconvinced. Why?

The individuals I have met who are passionate about Personal Urban Farming (PUF) are passionate for more reasons that just the practical stuff (although that’s a part of it, too). There’s something about this wild and crazy new-age concept that goes deeper than logical thinking.

As far-out there as that may seem, that’s what I’d like to explore a little bit in today’s blog. I’ve come up with five reasons—besides the obvious—that PUF can make an incredible and lasting difference in your life.

There are actually scientific studies that prove this to be true. No matter how old you are, it is important to be open to learning new things—and not just things that you need for your day job.

PUFs are the perfect lifelong learning opportunity. Deciding which plants you want to grow, creating the right environment—even choosing how to use your produce once it’s mature—all of these steps require a curiosity and passion for learning that enriches quality of life.

In the first chapter of his book, Food and Nutrition, author Paul Fieldhouse jumps right into the conversation of culture and what we eat:

“Where it is easily seen that the direct consequences of food intake are biological—food meets the energy and nutrient needs of the body—it is also apparent that the nature of that food intake is shaped by a wide variety of geographical, social, psychological, religious, economic and political factors,” Fieldhouse writes.

If you have ever wanted to learn more about yourself—who you are, where you come from, and so on—delving into the world of food might be the opportunity you have been seeking.

When you think of trying to master a new system to grow your own food, it might not sound like a particularly relaxing undertaking. According to a study that was published in the Journal of Health Psychology, though, gardening can have an effect on the mind that actually reduces stress—even more so than reading a book.

Now, with PUFs, that stress relief is available indoors, year ‘round.

For us and our work, this community will start with an online database. You may have heard me mention it before. It is our goal to organize a database with input from hundreds—maybe thousands, maybe millions—of people, connecting you to other PUF-enthusiasts, their mistakes, successes and valuable insight.

Imagine, too, the real-time conversations you could have with neighbors, friends and family, as you embark on this new adventure of growing your own produce. Our collective knowledge could go along way in developing new sustainable farming practices—and bettering our communities, simultaneously.

Why do you care about PUFs? How has growing your own food impacted your life — besides the practical or the obvious?

By |May 4th, 2016|Categories: Blog|0 Comments

Problems in Agriculture – 5: Where Did Your Food Go?

Where-Did-Your-Food-Go

The cold, hard numbers are hard to look at, but people still need to be aware of them. Consumers are losing up to one third of their food from farm to fork to trash bin. Just to crunch some numbers in your head, 24% of the calories that are grown, created, or produced for human consumption throughout the world are wasted. Getting food from the farm straight to a consumer’s fork is also what uses up 50% of United States land and a whopping 80% of all of the fresh water that’s consumed in the US. (NRDC Issue Paper) The numbers are no different for the majority of developing countries.

So, 30% of the world’s food goes uneaten, which converts to a massive amount of billions of dollars each year that goes in the trash because of that wasted food. That’s not to mention the fact that all that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills. It’s rated as the largest component in solid waste, as well as a large portion of methane emissions. (World Resources Institute)

It’s estimated that by the year 2050, the world will need 1,314 trillion kcal in order to survive and keep up with the demands of each citizen. The question then becomes: how do you reduce food loss? The answer has to be on an individual basis. It becomes increasingly more difficult to try to pull it off on a grand scale without proper investments backing it and without it being a known subject. On an individual scale, on the other hand, you’re able to grow your own food locally, ensuring that all of the food that local growers provide is accounted for and delved out to those who can pay for it or those who are in need of it (since it’s on an individual basis, the situation does differ). (Food Loss and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

The simple fact is that people need to come together to reduce food loss on individual scales that, added up, make up a noticeable difference in the way the agricultural and food system works currently. However, citizens with no power can only take it so far without governments, businesses, and consumers that can invest getting involves. When those particular subjects are also added into the mix, then a genuine reduction in food loss can even be discussed. What needs to happen is the government throughout each nation in the world needs to do a comprehensive, analytical study on the losses of food because of the current agricultural system. From there, the world can set international goals for food lost reduction, waste reduction, and more.

The current food system needs some freshening up that only the citizens of the world can help do something about. Businesses can follow suit, streamlining their own operations locally, which in turn reduces food loss and saves money for everyone involved. Consumers will be able to shop more wisely without having to waste food, and there will be more information readily available about when food goes bad, how to buy certain produce, and more. Each country needs to break out of its shell of thinking that a vegetable or fruit is healthy just because it looks especially fresh or tasty. On the contrary, it’s usually the ugly veggies and fruits that end up having the most nutritional value.

Growing and shopping locally, getting involved in personal urban farming, spreading the word, and trying as many ways you know about to reduce food loss will allow you to start the ripple in your community. That ripple could become a wave that causes a noticeable difference in your area, county, state, or even country – you never know what can happen when you try.

 

This article is part of a miniseries about problems in current agriculture.
Read the previous articles here: Part1Part2, Part3, Part4

By |April 28th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

Problems in Agriculture – 4: Low Variety

I think that it’s a sad fact that only the most resistant and most transportable vegetables are grown and sold nowadays. That limits the amount of vegetables that people are introduced to, can cook with, and it limits the imagination of those who aren’t quite ready to switch to the healthy lifestyle. If a bigger variety of vegetables were readily available just like fast food is, there wouldn’t be such an issue with the current agriculture system . As of now, though, the low variety of vegetables offer on the mass market is a major problem with the current food system – locally, however, there are solutions to fix it.

One of the most appalling figures I’ve found that has to do with the current agricultural system is that in the past 80 years, we’ve lost over 93% of the variety in our food and culture seeds. In 1903, there were 285 types of cucumbers, 463 types of radishes, 497 types of lettuce, and a whopping 544 types of cabbage. Just 80 years later, there were 16 types of cucumbers, 17 types of radishes, 36 types of lettuce, and only 28 types of cabbages. Over 90% of the vegetable varieties that we had in 1903 are now completely extinct. The painful truth is that we are losing variety and trading it out for convenience, easy transportation, and those vegetables that are most resistant to disease. (National Geographic)

Even more appalling than the numbers above is the fact that it’s such a hushed subject that’s kept quiet and out of the general public’s ear. Where we stand now, this fact needs to change, and it needs to change fast. Spreading the word is the best that most can do to help change the state in which our current agricultural and food system is. Spreading the word and getting involved in personal urban farming is the best solution on an individual scale for this issue. After all, spreading the word is how entire movements, revolutions, and vast changes have come to pass, so it can’t hurt to try and get as many people involved as possible.

The next important step is to ensure that you grow all possible crops locally, or at least shop through a local grower, so that you may continue to spread out the speed and slowly increase the variety of vegetables offered now. By growing locally, getting involved in personal urban farming, and spreading the news as both of your goals, you can also educate others on the benefits of growing or shopping locally. Keeping others informed on how growing locally can help them, the many benefits that it can offer both them and their environment, and much more will allow them to make a knowledgeable decision about the food that they ingest and where they get it from. (Fast Code Design)

The heirloom seed strands that we have left can remain on this planet as long as we let them. The most important thing is to help as many seeds as possible to thrive to their full potential through personal urban farming, help farmer markets and local growers by investing in them and purchasing through them instead of a mass-produced company, and to continue changing the public consciousness about the entire subject in general. While it won’t be known if we’ll ever be able to properly assess and make up for the actions of our past generations that killed off the variety to begin with for quite some time, all that can be done in the meantime is to continue spreading awareness to as many friends, relatives, and even strangers that you connect with. If you think it’s important enough, and you understand how pressing of an issue it is when it comes to the planet as a whole, educating those around you on the subject will be a breeze.

This article is part of a miniseries about problems in current agriculture.
Read the previous articles here: Part1Part2, Part3

By |April 11th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

Problems in Agriculture – 3: Quantity over Quality

Quantity Over Quality

It’s no secret that there are problems as to how the current agriculture and food system is set up. One of the most pressing issues, in my opinion, is that we are currently stuck in a loop of eating nutrient-less, tasteless vegetables that are very blatantly less than fresh. Every day, we are eating vegetables that are not living up to their full potential. In fact, some 12 vegetables declined 27% in calcium, 37% in iron, 21% in vitamin A, and 30% in vitamin C from an analysis of nutrient data from the years 1975-1997. Likewise, the British Food Journal published data collected from 1930 to 1980 where 20 vegetables were found to have dropped 14% in potassium, 22% in iron, and 19% in calcium. (Kushi Institute)

I find it extremely worrisome that in the past few decades the vegetables we consume have declined in vitamins and nutrients percentage-wise in the double digits. While the cause of the nutrients content decline is due to a number of issues, one of those causes is that crops are typically harvested earlier than their complete maturation process due to having to transport 1,500 kilometers to reach your table. There are a few things that can be done. First, healthy produce is grown on healthy soil. In order to make the soil healthier, and prevent any damage to the soil, you should start by forgoing any fertilizers and pesticides, using organic growing methods instead. Another tip is to alternate fields between growing seasons, which allows the land to have time to be restored back to its full nature before planting crops in it again.

Of course, telling companies what’s needed to be done to their crops to make them taste fresher and more flavorful as well as jam-packed with vitamins and nutrients won’t convince all of them to just quit what they’re doing and make the switch. Unfortunately, big-time companies continue to cause problems with the current agriculture system simply by providing food that’s got less nutritional value and less flavor to each bite. However, shopping at your local growers instead of a big-time corporation or mass-producing company is always the better option. (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)

Once you’ve found local growers that meet all of your food needs and you’ve transitioned to going to them regularly for all of your food-needs, it’s time to take the next step and grow your own food. The only way to avoid vegetables and fruits that are rich in toxins and contamination and low on the nutrients that they were initially chock full of with the utmost confidence is to grow the food yourself. Supporting local growers and taking part in personal urban framing as you transition is always recommended, but growing your own food allows you to reach a whole new level of “organic.” The disease-preventing, health- and life-giving foods that we so desperately need to consume in order to stay at our full potential become that much more rich in nutrients that our bodies crave. (Permaculture Research Institute)

Another obvious tip that’s often forgotten, especially when it comes to this particular subject, is to spread the word about all of the knowledge that you gain on the state of the current food system and what people can do to change it and turn it around. Only loud voices everywhere at one time can truly start a movement that’s remembered.

By picking produce that’s been grown on healthy soil through a local grower, or growing it yourself, is the best method to use in order to fight the chaos that the current agriculture system has become. Once you’ve finally made the transition to either shopping local or growing your own, you can combat the way mass-produce companies take advantage of consumer and their lack of knowledge on the subjects. I personally think that once you’re aware of the state of the current food system, it’s up to you to take up personal urban farming, support local growing, and spread the word. It’s easy to simply spread the word about the agriculture system, what people can do to change the way the system works now, and how they can switch to a personal urban farming lifestyle or shopping local just like you did.

This article is part of a miniseries about problems in current agriculture.
Read the previous articles here: <a href=”http://swissponic .ch/problems-in-agriculture-1-high-usage-of-chemicals/”>Part1, Part2

By |April 5th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

TEDxLugano

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Great news!
Patrick has been confirmed as a speaker of TEDxLugano.
Now he really has to learn to speak in decent English! 🙂

For those of you around Switzerland on April 16th 2016, organizers told us that there are still few tickets available. Don’t miss the opportunity! Apply for tickets here: Apply for tickets.

By |March 25th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Comments Off on TEDxLugano