Wouldn’t it be cool if the Greater Toronto Area had a facility that raised organic fish from hatchling to market size, that grew organic greens and veggies year round using 90% less water than conventional farming methods? Well, there is such a place, it’s located just north of Pearson Airport and it’s called Aqua Greens.
Started by Pablo Alvarez and Craig Petton, two waiters who studied food sustainability at Humber College, Aqua Greens is an aquaponic farming operation that is a model of efficiency. Stated simply, tilapia are raised in large tubs, and the water used to raise them is cleansed by plants, which use the waste and ammonia from the fish as food and fertilizer, so it’s its own little mutually advantageous ecosystem. With a little help, of course; the tilapia are fed an organic diet, and as the facility is indoors, indoor lighting is used to stimulate growth.
Aquaponics -the cultivation of fish and plants in a recirculating, closed-loop ecosystem- is a relatively new idea in this country, but one whose time has come. Indeed, there already seven thousand aquaponic operations in Australia alone.
It is a hydroponic growing method that requires no soil. The plants’ roots are bathed in nutrient rich, highly oxygenated water that sees growth rates far above soil-grown plants. The “aqua” in aquaponics refers to the fish side of the equation. Natural bacterial cycles are utilized to convert fish waste to plant nutrients. Plants in turn, clean and filter the water that returns to the fish environment.
This process significantly reduces the ecological footprint of the systems we currently use. Energy consumption in both production and transportation is significantly lower than the majority of current food sources. Our indoor aquaponic system conserves land, reduces food miles and uses 90% less water than traditional methods with no pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.- aquagreens.ca
Now you may have heard that the fish being produced here, tilapia, doesn’t have the greatest reputation but this is largely due to the conditions that some of these unfortunate fish are raised in, with poor feed, overcrowding and improper waste removal systems. But tilapia raised properly, with organic feed and a natural filtration system are still one of the healthier and more sustainable fish available, easy to raise, and popular for its mild, somewhat sweet flavour. And the fact that they are raised right in our own backyard, thereby cutting down on transportation and other associated exigencies add to the market allure and long term feasibility without adversely impacting environmental concerns. And it is the long term we’re looking at right now. Aqua Greens is only in its infancy, and the aquaponics industry is not expected to be a major player in this country for maybe five to ten years.
At this point, the greens that are being raised at Aqua Greens are lettuces, arugula, basil, chives, and Alvarez and Petton are already lining up customers like Barque Smokehouse and planning to donate some of their organic greens to The Stop, one of Toronto’s best known community food centres. With our oceans and lakes in dire straits, with traditional fish farming often yielding dubious results and the high cost of importing fresh produce in the winter months, forward thinking like this is what we need, and those of us who desire economically sound and environmentally friendly solutions are hopeful that this enterprise takes root, and takes off.