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Aquaponics First Harvest

This blog post is written by Lisa Misch, a senior studying Environmental Studies and Management at St. Olaf College and is currently helping YPAC (Young People’s Action Coalition) with their aquaponics operation. Main Street Project is working with the YPAC, a collection of high school students and recent graduates that want to become more involved with local farming. Following is the first harvest of the aquaponics crops!

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Lettuce and green onions growing in aquaponics beds.

On the morning of Friday, March 13th members of YPAC (Young People’s Action Coalition) gathered in a greenhouse to harvest their first crop of lettuce and green onions. But this is no ordinary greenhouse; it houses a complete aquaponics system. The use of aquaponics fosters the simultaneously growth of fish and plants in a closed nitrogen cycle. It is considered to be a sustainable form of agriculture due to its low reliance on external inputs and ability to produce a high number of crops in a small space.

 

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Cliff Martin (left) and Eric Tolson (right) harvesting green onions

YPAC, with the assistance and support of Main Street Project, has worked over the past several months to balance the aquaponics system consisting of Nile Tilapia and plants including, basil, lettuce, and green onions. While harvesting green onions to be sold at Just Food Coop in Northfield, Eric Tolson reflected on the experimental process involved in maintaining a sustainable agriculture system. “You really have to be okay if something doesn’t work out. But it’s good because we’re helping to develop something sustainable. And we’re always learning more about what certain fish and plants need to grow.”

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YPAC Member, Helen Forsythe, harvesting green onions.

Balancing nitrogen, maintaining ideal water temperatures, and dealing with pests is still a system of trial and error for YPAC members. However, the thick heads of lettuce and bunches of green onions are evidence of aquaponic’s ability to produce food. As Cliff Martin commented, “You still have to go out of your way to make aquaponics work; it doesn’t just happen on its own. And the system still isn’t perfectly sustainable. Right now we use a lot of plastic and electricity to grow the plants. It’s tough to create an agricultural system that is completely sustainable but aquaponics is a really good start.” And the implementation of aquaponics introduces another dimension to a sustainable local food system. “Aquaponics is an example of really efficient nitrogen cycling and serves as a year-round source of food. That’s really important for a food system that has such a limited growing season.”

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View of Aquaponics Fish Tanks

YPAC’s next steps are to continue developing their aquaponics system by expanding plant variety. They are currently preparing two acres of field to grow onions and carrots. And later this spring they will begin an egg-laying production unit. Look for further updates throughout the season on Main Street Project’s website to hear about how this group of young growers are working towards a socially, economically, ecologically resilient food system.