Produce you enjoy during the winter is shipped hundreds of miles from where it’s grown. Utah State University researchers are finding solutions to grow local food year round.
The plants growing in USU’s aquaponics system are not getting nutrients from soil. Balls made from clay cover the surface of the grow boxes, and under the surface, water is flowing with nutrients that come from fish waste.
Gary Stewardson, a USU technology and engineering education professor said bacteria flows with the water, breaking down the ammonia from the fish and turns it into nitrate for the plants, creating a small ecosystem.
“The big push with aquaponics in the United States is that idea of urban farming,” Stewardson said. “Having your produce raised within miles of where it’s going to be consumed.”
Stewardson is growing tomatoes, lettuce and peppers year round which could be necessary for the future. But for now, he said having fresh produce is in demand.
“You could deliver to a restaurant, basil, you could just pull it right out, it still has the roots on, put a little bag around it and say, ‘Here it’s still growing.’ That’s how fresh it would be,” Stewardson said.
Aquaponics is not a new technology, but Stewardson said the efficiency needs improvement. He said growing both plants and fish to eat could also help solve food problems in developing countries.