Eliminating Food Deserts: Aquaponics in the City

Posted by Kris Lindahl on Thursday, September 21st, 2017 at 10:24am.

How Food Deserts can be Eliminated With Aquaponic GardensAlmost half of Minneapolis is characterized as a "food desert," with little access to fresh produce and healthy food. But a new farming method goes right to the heart of the problem; Aquaponics is not only a unique method of growing fish and food together, but a viable new business model in cities throughout the country. In Minnesota alone, there are more than 40 young aquaponic companies; and they love relocating to old factories and warehouses.

It constitutes a unique way to reuse old buildings, with no need for extensive rehabilitation and renovation.

Responding to Existing Need

Urban growers are also installing aquaponics systems on rooftops, in basements, in cafeterias and medical center courtyards, under greenhouses, on vacant lots. There is opportunity for the real estate community, for entrepreneurs, for cooperative development and new business models, and their is immense opportunity to increase local access to fresh, healthy food.

St. Paul's Urban Organics, in association with Pentair, opened an aquaponic farm in the former Hamm's Brewery back in 2014, and in June of this year began operations at a second urban farm in the old Schmidt Brewery building. They're not just finding new uses for old buildings, they're hoping to transform the food delivery model that leaves a lot of people in cities across the nation at risk.

A Growing Revolution

In this nation, more than 23.5 million people are residents of food deserts, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "an area that is vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.”

A recent Twin Cities Agenda article notes that only about one-third of St. Paul can be classified as urban desert.

But change is coming, not only in the Twin Cities, but in urban centers across the country; indeed, throughout the world. A Global Market Intelligence Report notes that, worldwide, there are approximately 20,000 aquaponic practitioners, but that the field is "fairly fragmented." However, the prediction is that it will grow by around 10 percent annually through 2020. The market in 2015 was estimated to be worth more than $500 million.

That's pretty impressive for a field that that will elicit blank stares from many people.

As an urban market for older buildings, however, it is gaining widespread notice. Aquaponic farming uses substantially less water than other forms of agriculture. It is a sustainable system in which plants and fish are grown together in a water-based symbiotic environment where each nourishes the other. It is a completely natural method of food production, with multiple annual "harvests" possible, and requires no chemical or synthetic nutrients. Additionally, it is suitable for outdoor, indoor or greenhouse operations, which means that there are few environmental or climatic limitations.

Even the University of Minnesota has become involved in a big way, with curriculum development and sponsorship of the Minnesota Aquaponics Symposium annually since 2015.

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