Fish poop is powering a new agricultural model that can feed
Outside, the rain hammers against the facility roof and the wind howls with intense voracity, tearing up power lines and ripping the roofs off unprotected homes. Within the reinforced concrete walls of the PRIDCO building, however, thousands upon thousands of heads of lettuce proliferate and thrive, wholly unaware of the carnage going on outside. Here, fed by nutrient and nitrate-rich water and renewably sourced power, agriculture can continue irrespective of the weather. The island’s people may lose power in their homes; they may even lose the roofs on their houses…but they will have food.
This is the model being put forward by Fusion Farms, an organization striving to bring hurricane protected Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) aquaponic farms to the Caribbean island nation of Puerto Rico.
Learn more about Fusion Farms’ mission to establish a food sovereign future for Puerto Rico.
The solution proposed by Fusion Farms
In September 2017, Puerto Rico’s existing problems – lack of infrastructure, unreliable power grid, importing vast majority of its food – became exponentially worse with the landfall of Category 5 Hurricane Maria. And without the necessary organization, relief, and support, the nation struggles – to this day – to get back up on its feet.
What Puerto Rico needs is a protected, local food source that can thrive irrespective of the weather – providing the island’s population with fresh, locally-grown fruits, vegetables, and fish that are available all year round. And so, Fusion Farms proposes to build a series of hurricane protected, climate controlled aquaponics farms.
What is an aquaponic farm?
Aquaponics is a sustainable method of farming that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). It is an elegantly simple agricultural model that leverages the existing natural relationship between various components of the food chain, namely plants and fish. In an aquaponic system, plants are grown in a closed environment fed by nutrient rich water (not soil).
This nutrient rich water is created by fish (i.e. fish poop), which is fed through the vertically stacked tiers of plants. The plants filter out the nutrients and nitrates, thereby cleaning the water, which is then returned to the fish tanks. In this way, an aquaponics farm is one great big loop that requires lesser inputs than a traditional farm and is certainly far less vulnerable to external influences.
A Deep Water Culture hydroponics system where plants grow directly into the nutrient rich water without a soil medium. Plants can be spaced closer together because the roots do not need to expand outwards to support the weight of the plant. Source: Bryghtknyght – Own work, CC BY 3.0.
The benefits of aquaculture
Harvest 365 days a year
There are no seasons in a controlled environment facility and so plants and fish can be grown and harvested 365 days a year. Furthermore, and according to the resident scientist and lead aquaponics technician at EcoLife Conservation, Martin Niwinski, since nutrients are constantly available to plants’ roots, plants can grow up to 25% faster than in soil.
Using less water
By recycling its water, aquaponics requires substantially less water than traditional farming. This is especially beneficial in the parts of Puerto Rico that receive lower rainfall, as well as in other water-restricted communities and countries around the world.
Requiring less land and conserving indigenous vegetation
Through carefully constructed systems, plants can be grown in vertical tiers – one on top of the other (as shown in the 3D rendering below). This means that much less land is required to produce exponentially more produce, thus negating the need to clear indigenous vegetation to accommodate farmlands.
3D rendering of vertical racks of hydroponically grown plants inside Fusion Farms’ proposed facility.
100% Pesticide free produce
In a closed environment aquaponics farm, both fish and plants are less vulnerable to external influences, so pesticides aren’t necessary. In any case, fish are extremely sensitive to chemicals so you couldn’t even hope to maintain such a system using pesticides.
You can grow what you like
Many of the fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens that are popular in the United States need to be imported to Puerto Rico because they do not grow well in the island’s tropical climate. With a controlled climate facility, Fusion Farms will be able to grow the produce that is in the greatest demand.
For a sustainable future
Currently, Puerto Rico imports a staggering 90% of its fresh produce, which has to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to grocery store shelves. By establishing a reliable, local source of fresh produce, Fusion Farms will eliminate the need to import food, thereby contributing to a much more sustainable future.
There are many challenges to funding, setting up, building, and running an aquaponics farm, especially on the island of Puerto Rico. But the team at Fusion Farms has already devised the answers to many of these challenges. By combining elements of hydroponics, aquaculture, and renewable energy in a fully contained and controlled environment, Fusion Farms could potentially solve many of the crises facing the island nation today.
Extensive scientific research on looped aquaponic ecosystems has paved the way for repeatable, scalable food production, which represents an innovative advance in the way food supplies will be grown in the future!
You can help Fusion Farms establish a food sovereign future for Puerto Rico and many nations like it by investing in our pilot project.