An Aquaponics Manifesto

Courtesy of Growing Power

After years of building and operating a backyard aquaponics system, and months of writing about aquaponics, until recently this question still stopped me in my tracks:

Why do I do aquaponics?

The trouble with this question stems from the fact that, for me, aquaponics arose through a convergence of many concerns.

  • Environmental Concern:  Many of the most intractable problems of the next century seem likely to be environmental.  In many places, aquaponics offers a replacement for parts of our energy-intensive, fossil-fuel dependent agricultural system while still allowing us to feed 15 billion people.
  • Food Safety:  The more I learn about the conditions and chemicals used in the raising of fish and vegetables, the more I value the inherent safety in a system in which nearly all pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers cannot be used.
  • Community:  When I built my aquaponics, I didn’t consider this.  But now I realize the awesome power it holds to gather people together.  Kids and adults from blocks away visit me almost every day.  Aquaponics is helping to transform my low-income neighborhood into a community.
  • Resilience:  Each year, our economic, political, and environmental systems become more volatile and less reliable.  With my annual and perennial gardens and my chickens, I grow a majority of my own non-starchy vegetables, greens, and eggs.  But living in an urban area, fish offers my only legal option to grow my own meat.

Jeremiah in HaitiClearly I’m a person who wants to make a difference in the world.  I want to do this for good idealistic reasons such as:

  • My faith, and the dozens of passages in scripture which call us to serve the Earth and the poor.[1]
  • My desire – as Ghandi said – to be the change that I wish to see in the world.
  • My ego, and the need to see myself as good and important.

These kinds of reasons, for me, go a long way.   But they’re all sort of jumbled with no clear priority among them.

A New Reason

Jeremiah, Sara, CoraBut yesterday, something new happened.  My wife gave birth to a daughter—our first.  Right now, she’s nursing on the bed across from me.

My daughter Cora gives me a new reason to do aquaponics: I want her to grow up in a world where people do things that make sense.

This reminds me of a story I heard about the Amish:

On a tour of Amish country, a tourist on bus a said to an Amish man helping with the tour, “I’m a good person.  What makes you so different than me?”  The Amish man thought and responded with a question, “How many of you on this bus agree that getting rid of your television would give you more time with your children, more time to enjoy the out-of-doors, and more peace of mind?”  Most people on the bus raised their hands.  He followed, “How many of you will now go home and throw away your televisions?”   All hands went down.  “That is what makes the Amish different,” he said.

This thing I admire about the Amish:  When they see something that makes sense to them, they do it.

Replacing the television in our home with a backyard aquaponics system improved my life and the lives of those around me in clear and tangible ways, even if I can’t pin down exactly why I built it in the first place.  It is the physical embodiment of an idea that, if spread, can make the world a better place one backyard at a time.

Baby with JeremiahChildren see our behaviors, and learn how the world operates.  When tragedies strike, do people help each other?  When your state faces drought, do people shorten their showers and let their lawns go brown?  When people learn that chickens from the store lived in 12” cages with broken legs, do they stop buying them?

Our children ask us this question: “When there is a sensible thing to be done, do we do it?”

Social psychology tells us that making an effort—even a small one—in the face of long odds restores our faith.  If you can take action, others can as well.  It transforms your spirit from apathy to hope.

Your children will see this, and they will learn.

Backyard aquaponics makes a great deal of sense in a great many places, including my place.  I can’t wait for my daughter to see it!

Cora – 5 Minutes Old

[1] Such as the command in Genesis 2:15 to “till and care for” the Earth, and the one in Deuteronomy 15:11 to ‘ freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’


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