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Gone Fishing: Commercial Aquaponics Trying to Make a Splash in Northeast Denver’s Food Desert

What do you get when you combine a commercial-scale aquaponics system with one of Denver’s more innovative greenhouses? Well, according to Colorado Aquaponics and The GrowHaus, you get a massive amount of chemical-free salad and cooking greens, culinary herbs, and nutrient-rich vegetables, in addition to 1,500 pounds of fresh fish.

“The fish are happy, the plants are happy and everyone gets more to eat,” says Tawnya Sawyer, director of education and business development at Colorado Aquaponics.

At least that’s the hope. The two aforementioned groups are in the midst of trying to raise $15K through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to make the system a reality. The GrowHaus will provide 3,200 square feet of space for this community-based aquaponics system if the monetary goal can be reached.

The proposed system — a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics — would use a commercial design based upon a proven model that successfully integrates raft culture and media growbeds. The hope is to get the system built and operating before winter. Ideally, if that can be done, The GrowHaus and Colorado Aquaponics will continue to pursue renewable energy options like passive solar heating and solar photovoltaic to provide energy.

“Aquaponics already uses only about 10% of the water consumed in traditional agriculture,” says Sawyer, “critical during deep droughts experienced in Colorado and elsewhere.”

On top of considerable water conservation, aquaponics systems are built to produce zero waste.

“They are designed to recirculate water from the fish tank to the media and raft beds where the plants are located,” explains Sawyer. “Bacteria convert the ammonia from the fish waste into nutrients that the plants absorb. Nothing is discarded from the system. “

According to many people, particularly those who are well aware of our broken food system, aquaponics is an essential ingredient in the future of food production.  This method shuns pesticides, herbicides, and agrochemicals, which would destroy the symbiotic relationship between fish, plants, and bacteria. Water is monitored daily and is never subject to contaminants like mercury, PCBs and heavy metals. And antibiotics are a big no-no.

Then there are the community benefits. In the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in particular, where The GrowHaus is located, the residents get to reap the rewards of this hyper-local, healthy fare.

“Coloradoans spend $12 billion annually on food, 97 percent of which is imported from outside the state,” says Sawyer. “Locally grown, sustainable food is the foundation to healthier eating, healthier lifestyles, and healthier, more vibrant communities.”

That mantra-like statement is one that keeps floating to the surface. As we look back many years later, let’s hope it’s not the “big one that got away.”

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