Aquaponics and Urban Farming Has Friends in High Places

The interest in eradicating things like food deserts and the size of carbon footprint where food is concerned appears to have busted out of the strictly ‘grassroots’ arena in the U.S. and Canada. It’s not just a local chef or two serving up the goodness grown on the rooftop either. Large urban farms and aquaponics have caught the interest of education and city authorities as an opportunity to do more good than locally grown organic produce.

Students at Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo, British Columbia with a goal to provide their school cafeteria with fresh food, create green space in the courtyard for getting close to nature, and also hope to be able to replenish local streams with salmon and trout with their aquaponics and vertical farming project. The group currently has one of eight available walls set up for growing vegetables and some aquaponics already running. The recently received a Green Grant of $2700 will be put to good use in expanding their operation. While there are high school students in the U.S. working on hydroponic and aquaponic growing in metropolitan areas, getting a grant for operating costs or more equipment isn’t something I’ve seen yet. Fundraisers, sales of the harvest and donations seem to be what fuels similar programs in areas like Chicago. For more info on the grants program, visit: World Wildlife Federation Canada

Urban Aquaponic FarmingThat might not seem like much action or advancement, but urban farming operations with big plans are finding assistance from the city and other organizations to get up and running too. St. Paul, Minnesota like all long established municipalities have certain buildings sitting vacant that beg to be repurposed. Standard businesses aren’t interested and most such properties have a negative influence on surrounding property values and do not provide the city with many tax dollars either. Three guys in the area, looking for a change in careers after being introduced to the incredible possibilities of aquaponics and urban farming, will be growing 5 stories of fish, veggies, and herbs in the long derelict Hamms brewery buildings. The trio received multiple grants totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars to help with building restoration, equipment purchases, and initial operating costs. The remainder of the $1.5 million needed to get the Urban Organics farm off the ground comes from private donors.

Over a century old, the long retired beer factory was the kind of place that homeless people occupied. The graffiti and garbage alone was a scary proposition before they ever got to updating or repairing the structure. Why would they move into such a decrepit building? The extra thick brick walls provide excellent insulation against the frigid northern winters and no other building was built to hold the weight of 5 thirty-five hundred gallon aquaponic tanks on all floors. You need something pretty beefy to vertical farm fish on a big scale, and the Hamms building has floors that are 2-feet thick. They just don’t build stuff this way anymore, the place is ‘like a bunker,’ says partner, Chris Ames.

Far from any climate that provides fresh lettuce and herbs in winter, Urban Organics has a waiting market in health-conscious moms and chefs who will be delighted at the quality found in freshly harvested greens and fish. The city of St. Paul played a large part in getting grants rolling to help the trio make their plans a reality. It’s a win-win proposition for the community as a whole in raising badly needed tax dollars to keep municipal services humming along and restores one long empty building in the downtown area back into a hive of commercial activity. Hopefully, more cities will find such an opportunity as the thing that will do everyone so much good that it’s worth doing everything possible to make it happen. As you can see, there are enough people with funding power out there willing to make a viable plan for local food production come to life in a big way.

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.