Urban Agriculturalist: ecoCity Farming

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Urban Agriculturalist is a series on the ways city and suburb dwellers use their land as a food resource.

Struck by the high carbon cost of sending food to dense urban areas and communities in extreme climates, Andrew Bodlovich and Hogan Gleeson devised a highly efficient, waste-free aquaponic growing system in which vegetable crops and freshwater fish benefit from a symbiotic relationship. Each ecoCity Farm the size of one city block can sustainably feed up to 300 people with no waste, little water and minimal effort.

Barramundi, perch or other freshwater fish and crustaceans are raised in large tanks to harvest size. The wastewater generated from the population is filtered through a patented β€œbio-converter” which mineralizes any compound that could be dangerous to plant or fish health (e.g. bacterias, feces). The bio-converter works with vermiculture – colonies of waste-eating worms that turn undesirable compounds into plant-ready nutrients. After getting the worm treatment, the used water nourishes the vegetables. The veggies use up the minerals and nutrients from the fish water, effectively filtering it to its original, clean state. This newly plant-filtered water is sent back to the fish tanks.

This system of recycling allows for a zero-waste production plan. The system also conserves water at unprecedented levels – it uses only 5% of the amount of water used on a traditional farm of the same output. The co-founders attest that the only water lost is that which is drunk up by the plants themselves. This makes the system β€œdrought proof.” And not a minute too soon for Australia, it seems.

The ecoCity Farm is also a highly scalable project because it is so easily and cheaply replicated anywhere in the world. The unique technology requires an IT team, but this seems to be the only major non-local operation cost. Anyone can purchase a modular ecoCity Farm kit to fit the available space. Because the crops are built in a shelf structure, even the smallest farms can produce a high yield. The farm can be assembled from the shipment and readily available local components.

The system works anywhere in the world because it uses no chemical or synthetic compounds and produces no waste. An eco-lodge on the edge of a protected forest or a scuba resort on a small island could both use this system to lessen their impact, for example.

So far, the only downside seems to be the use of energy, which is the same as a conventional aquaculture system. However, the prototype ecoCity Farm in Nimbin, Australia uses a solar panel to heat the fish tanks and gets its energy for automatic pumps and rotation devices from the alternative energy grid.

Another possible objection could be the ethical implications of raising fish in tanks. My feeling is that a fish in non-toxic tank water is fairing better than a fish in toxic river water, but food ethics is a personal line that every eater must draw for him/herself.

(Photo courtesy of Rivendell Organics)

Written by meredith

5 Comments

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  1. I’m not vegetarian but I find your statement that “food ethics is a personal line that every eater must draw for him/herself” kind of a cop out.

    The only situation one can morally “take a personal line” (i.e. do whatever they like) is in situations that only affect themselves and not others.

    The ethics of eating or not animals and animal products should surely be based on evidence of suffering… not some personal whim.

    If there is evidence that suffering takes place then the only personal decision for one to make is whether or not they’re happy to inflict suffering on another life.

  2. Hi Meredith,

    I am one of the inventors of the ecoCity Farm and firstly would like to thank you for letting people know about our system.

    And a couple of responses to the article and people’s comments….

    Firstly, I’d like to stress that we take the issue of animal welfare very seriously. I agree with the comments from Anthony that it is a crucial point that no animals be subjected to stress or suffering in agricultural systems. In the ecoCity Farm system we aim for the fish to be in a high quality environment in which water quality parameters are kept within comfortable ranges for the fish. We work closely with a specialist and highly qualified fish veterinarian who advises us on fish health and well-being.

    Do our fish live in a totally natural environment like their cousins in the ocean? No. Obviously they are contained in a man-made environment. But we need to recognise that most ocean fish populations have been largely decimated due to overfishing.
    If we are to have a chance of restoring our natural environments and ecosystems then we will need to follow the permaculture principle of meeting all of our needs as humans from carefully designing sustainable agricultural systems that use as little space as possible so we can return the remaining space to natural ecosystems.

    thanks,

    Andrew Bodlovich
    ecoCity Farms
    Urban Ecological Systems Ltd
    http://www.ecocityfarm.com.au

  3. Thank you, Andrew for coming over and clearing up the fish issue. I agree with you that overfishing is a far greater risk to piscary rights than a group of fish that live in an unnatural but controlled environment. It’s great to hear that the fish are given so much attention.

    And I agree with Anthony that we need to evaluate the repercussions of our eating habits with a strict eye, but I think it is impossible to eliminate foods that cause suffering to living things. My goal in blogging here is to encourage thoughtfulness and provide ideas for better ways to eat that minimize impact and harm. That said, there is no way to eat without causing impact. The soybeans that made your tofu come from fields that were created by clearing animal habitat. The cornmeal in that cake you bought might come from a major food conglomerate like Carhill or Monsanto. You simply don’t know. So the best you can do is try to find out and make the best, least harmful choices based on that information. A thoughtful decision that allows for some leeway – in my opinion – is more considerate than any default system, even if the default system is more rigid.

    And I chose to write about ecoCity because it comes excitingly close to eliminating impact on a number of important levels, not least of which is the health of wild fisheries, mentioned by Andrew above.

    Thanks for the discussion, keep the comments coming!

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