The simplest explanation of Aquaponics is done by taking the two parts of the word and understanding where each comes from. Aqua is associated with the word water and is a shortening of the word aquaculture which is the practice of raising marine species in a controlled environment,or the farming of fish.
Ponics is a shortening of the word Hydroponics and comes from the Greek suffix Pono or Ponic which means toil, labor or hard work. Essentially the farming and growing of a crop in a nutrient rich water solution with no soil at all.
So when we take the two parts of this word we get Aquaponics which takes the pros and eliminates the cons of these two popular methods of farming fish and produce.
Plants are grown in a similar structure as they would be in a traditional hydroponics system where a nutrient fertilizer is required to grow healthy plants. The beauty of aquaponics is that this step is entirely eliminated and replaced with nutrients provided by natural processes of a fish in dispelling waste.
The waste is then converted in nutrients that the plant can use to grow and the plants perform the task of clarifying and filtering the water to keep the fish happy. In aquaculture operations the fish live in a constant stream of their own waste inland or off the coast which can create dead areas, algal blooms, and diseases in the fish which is combated with massive amounts of antibiotics.
It’s the idea of copying a perfectly efficient ecosystem that we see in nature ( ponds, lakes, rivers, oceans) where everything works in symbiosis and copying those processes in a man made system or structure.
This is a new innovation in agriculture and is slowly sweeping across the nation and the world in the form of small commercial enterprises, community projects, and educational projects.
But the reality is that this form of agriculture has been used for thousands of years by ancient farmers in Asia and Central America.
In China rice paddies have been used for 11,000 years and these ancient farmers knew the benefits of aquaponics without ever calling it that. Constantly submerged rice paddies were filled with aquatic life ranging from crustaceans to small fish which gave the rice a fresh, organic, and constant source of nutrients on which to feed and an additional source of protein for the farmers.
In the Ancient Central American empire of the Aztecs the farmers used nutrient rich soil deposited from large river systems into Lake Texacoco to grow their crops, and could produce seven crops a year on the same soil!
These ancient but ingenious practices were abandoned in modern times to make way for factory and chemical based farming of fish and produce around the world. The benefits were obvious as farmers could control pests with pesticides, feed fish chemically derived nutrients, and harvest large amounts of mono culture crops.
But the impact of this way of farming on the environment and our collective health has been fully realized and more and more consumers are taking the power into their own hands to buy food that has been grown organically, GMO free, chemical and pesticide free, and sustainably.
This trend for truly clean food is continuing to grow at an exponential rate and aquaponics will be one of the main movers of this trend in the years to come.