A little about me
Hi! I'm an EngD student researching blockages in sewers. You can follow this link to find out more about my work - my online profile. In my own time I keep up to date with the news and hang out with friends and family. Over the last few years I've read up a lot on sustainability and have made some small changes in my own life to reduce my impact on the environment. I'd like to do more though and encourage you to check out my aquaponics project!
Sustainability and the food industry
What's sustainable about food? For the average consumer the simple answer is... likely very little. While industrialised agriculture keeps us all fed the negative repercussions impact the environment, the economy, our health and society at large. While the demand for food increases and these issues grow more urgent the importance of sustainability also becomes more clear. On a global scale food production results in deforestation and desertification leaving less space for natural environments to thrive. At the same time increased pollution threatens to change our climate, where we can live and reduce global biodiversity. As individuals what we eat is clearly connected to our health and added sugar, preservatives and additives are important risk factors for non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease (Transforming the food system to fight non-communicable diseases). When one in five deaths worldwide are associated with an unhealthy diet (Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries...) it's clear we should look for better options.
Regarding ethics some cases of conventional food production raise serious concerns surrounding animal cruelty and human rights. To provide cheap food for the world, animals in factory farms are butchered efficiently but can live in misery while over a million people in forced labour within the agriculture and fishing sectors have little hope for a better future (Global estimates of modern slavery). In addition to issues surrounding their quality of life factory farmed animals are also routinely given antibiotics not to treat disease but to promote growth and prevent disease. In these environments antimicrobial resistance becomes a serious concern as it can make medicines ineffective for humans (Review on antimicrobial resistance). More immediately the consumer eats medications, hormones, pesticides and herbicides which have bio-accumulated in meat products which may have adverse impacts on our health.
The way we grow food also impacts other sectors. In the water sector agriculture accounts for around 70% of total water consumption (Water pollution from and to agriculture). Water scarcity was listed in 2019 by the World Economic Forum as one of the largest global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade and conventional agriculture does little to conserve limited resources. In addition nutrient rich runoff from fields treated with synthetic fertilisers washes into rivers and lakes causing eutrophication which decimates fish populations and reduces biodiversity (Sources of eutrophication). Finally, pesticides and herbicides in surface water and groundwater present a difficult challenge for the water sector in providing potable water for consumers.
The practice of farming fish, otherwise known as aquaculture, usually brings many fish together in a small space. Disease is an issue and farmed fish are heavily medicated which has implications for the consumer. To provide high value fish like salmon and trout farmed fish are fed fish feed rich in protein and fats made from other low value fish caught in natural fisheries. As 33.1% of fish stocks are classified as overfished (The state of world fisheries and aquaculture) any increased demand for wild fish sets back the recovery of natural fisheries more and more. In addition, around 25% of fish species spend some part of their life cycle in corals (Coral reefs) and as corals disappear there will be fewer wild fish around to feed farmed fish.
What can we do?
Together, the issues surrounding food sustainability can seem overwhelming but there is hope for the future and there are things we can do, both individually and together to make a difference. As consumers we can avoid food wastage and avoid buying food out of season. We can buy local produce with a small carbon footprint, reduce our consumption of meat and buy fair trade brands where possible. We can reduce, reuse and recycle plastics and reconsider what we throw away. If the resources are available we can even grow our own food like in this project.
Whatever solutions we adopt it all starts with a better understanding of food production and there are plenty of resources out there. There is the world resources report - Creating a sustainable food future or more on the Current challenges in the food industry. There's information on who makes your food Agropoly - A handful of corporations control world food production and charities who focus on these issues like Sustain.
This project aims to use aquaponics with insect protein to grow food sustainably. It is local, uses less water than conventional farming and is space efficient. It avoids pesticides and herbicides, is a transparent business and has a low carbon footprint. With these benefits and more, growing our own food is perhaps the best way to disconnect from a largely unsustainable food industry. This project will help develop local skills and knowledge, raise awareness in the local community and do just a little to help save the world. Your donation will help build something sustainable that will continue to provide food without a human cost, without an environmental cost and without a social cost.
What is aquaponics? Aquaponics raises fish and vegetables with recirculated water. While in operation, the inputs to an aquapvonics system are fish food, air and sunlight. Fish eat and produce waste which is broken down by bacteria into nitrates which vegetables use to grow. By removing nitrates the vegetables maintain water quality of a high standard for the fish to live in. It is similar to hydroponics in that the roots of vegetables are supplied nutrient rich water but dissimilar in that fish provide nutrients rather than computer controlled hardware. The fish, plants and bacteria share a symbiotic relationship keeping each other healthy which can be more robust than sterile hydroponics systems. This project will use a flood drain design - a grow bed suspended above a sump above a pond for fish with a pump bringing water from the pond to the grow bed. The pump will run continuously to fill the grow bed but a bell siphon will empty the grow bed quickly once it reaches a critical level - hence the system floods and drains.
The set up will grow rainbow trout with mainly leafy greens such as lettuce and cabbage. To increase the robustness of the system we will increase biodiversity and experiment with a variety of other vegetables and herbs such as ginger, tomatoes, wasabi and spring onions. Young plants will be raised indoors and transplanted to the gravel grow bed when their root systems have developed. Once grown we will share the end produce as rewards for funding. To avoid commercial fish feed and keep the project sustainable insect protein will be used to feed the fish. Darkling beetles also known as meal worms can be grown in trays being fed vegetables scraps. Insect protein is both high quality protein and much more sustainable than wild fish, poultry or pork.
Where will the money go?
To build the rig an approximate partial costs breakdown is provided:
Of course there are other costs including tools, extension chords, water testing kits and nets but there are spare parts around and my own money to go into the project as well. If the project goes well a stretch goal is to collect data like pH, plant growth and temperature using an arduino. Using this data we can learn a little more about the system, how it works and how to continue with improvements.
All gifts, of every size are very much appreciated - thank you.