There are some new fish in Baltimore, and they don’t come from the Chesapeake Bay. On October 5th, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future launched an aquaponics farm in the city. By raising about 400 tilapia and harvesting hundreds of pounds of organic vegetables, the organization hopes to sell these goods at local markets and inspire local entrepreneurs to copy their model.
Aquaponics is a sustainable technology that combines aquaculture, or fish farming, with hydroponics, or soil-less plant farming. The fish and the plants work symbiotically, with the waste from the fish providing fertilization for the plants, and the plants refreshing the water for the fish.
The tilapia swim in four 210-gallon tanks, having been raised in the farm since June to prepare for the launch. It’s expected that they will be ready for eating in January of 2013 (yum). Some tasty vegetables are also growing there, including herbs, lettuce, kale, celery, basil, eggplant, and okra. The farm makes use of a previously unused 1,200 square foot greenhouse at the Clyburn Arboretum, temporarily donated by the Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks. The facility is open to the public to visit.
While the Center for Livable Future’s farm is new to Baltimore, aquaponics farms exist all over the country. New York City itself boasts one at the Brooklyn College research center; there’s a Long Island City startup, plus aquaponics advocacy organizations along with other farms elsewhere in New York State. It’s a profitable venture for entrepreneurs: starting up an aquaponics farm has been shown to reap substantial rewards. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in Baltimore, for although profits are a good motivation for this activity, this venture could make affordable access to fresh food a priority too. With 15 percent of the inner city living in poverty, facing an unemployment rate of 11 percent, Baltimore is more than ready for a farm like that.