[permaculture] Is this Acquaponics then ?

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Thu May 14 15:33:16 EDT 2015


Chomp!

The wikipedia definition of aquaponics is fine, especially 

> the size, complexity, and types of foods grown in an aquaponics system can vary as much as any system found in either [hydroponics or aquaculture]

That is, they are highly variable. Nearly all the ones I’ve seen are small scale, 5-20 square meters of beds and 500-2000 liters of water. Of course they can be scaled up, and that’s a problem, just as it is with agriculture. I’ve seen many that are lovely, with diverse pond-fed plantings around them that are gorgeous and a pleasure to be around. Nothing resembling a CAFO, happy healthy fish and lush, polyculture plants. Penny Livingston has a great example at the Regenerative Design Institute.

Aquaponics is no less an imitation of nature than a garden: animal wastes are converted into nitrates via biological activity, returned to plants, and purified water drains out of the beds (to be recycled, unlike a garden where it runs off and then new water must be input, often artificially via irrigation).

A garden is not natural. The moment you save seeds, weed, prune, graft, domesticate plants, irrigate, make an herb spiral or a keyhole bed, compost in a pile or in sheet mulch, use cardboard, or a shovel, wheelbarrow, rake or hori-hori, you are doing things not done in nature. You are using technology and design. Both are artificial and done only by humans. Design is artificial and does not imitate how nature creates; she evolves while we design. Only hunter-gatherers are “natural” in that sense, and only some of them.

The criterion “does it imitate nature” to me isn’t a good one. A nuclear reactor imitates nature. A massive extinction event imitates nature. Genetic engineering uses only enzymes found in nature and imitates the gene splicing that nature does. We end up making arbitrary distinctions that way that have nothing to do with whether it is natural or not—you’re really concerned with the welfare of the fish more than, is it “natural”. Aquaponics absolutely mimics the natural system of fish pooping into water, that water running out of a lake, flowing through soil, being purified by microbes and plants, and being returned by the plants to the system in clean form. It can be done humanely and ecologically, or stupidly and cruelly. Like any human endeavor.

The criterion, “does it contribute to the health of the local and global ecosystem” to me is far better than “does it mimic nature.” And when an urban aquaponics systems provides healthy produce and meat to a low-income population who would otherwise be shopping at a big-box store and buying CAFO meat, as the mid-scale system at the GrowHaus in Denver does, then that criteria has been met. Those people don’t have access to the land needed for a food forest, or even a garden.

Like everything else in permaculture, it’s context dependent. Aquaponics to me is a good tool in certain cases for zone 1 or 2 intensive production and is no more unnatural than drip irrigation or using a knife. 

You’re right, we’re still very much beginners at imitating natural systems. Aquaponics is a much closer mimic than a vegetable garden.

Toby
http://patternliteracy.com

Coming soon: my new book on urban permaculture, The Permaculture City. Pre-order it at on-line booksellers or at http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_permaculture_city/



> On May 14, 2015, at 11:17 AM, Steve Hart <stevenlawrencehart at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> Ahhh caught a shark or two..thanks for the bite. I totally agree believe it
> or not in the vast majority of what you both say. However I *have seen*
> systems that do not recognise such virtues still labeling themselves as
> aquaponic. Obviously our challenge is to develop these systems that do
> mimic nature while learning from nature or be bitten by her.
> 
> Thanks for the abuse as well
> 
> *"Steve, this is more evidence that you don’t know what aquaponics is.*
> 
> So Toby lets have your definition or is there an even higher learning
> better one out there. Obviously this one from Wiki does not fit either of
> your definitions
> 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics
> 
> *To critique a subject, you need to make an honest effort to grasp what it
> is, and not confuse it with something it’s not. Otherwise you’re just
> setting up straw men, *
> 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man
> 
> *and that wastes everyone’s time. Equating industrial aquaculture with
> garden-scale aquaponics is like equating factory farms with permaculture.
> Like saying CAFO beef is the same as pastured. It’s simply wrong.​"​*
> 
> I'd love to see examples of "garden-scale aquaponics" that are not similar
> to CAFO systems. And prove that the entire system is one that does
> imitate/mimic nature by passing on all such virtues. My argument stands
> that there are no such systems man made that can offer this
> imitation/mimic. It is totally impossible even if your were a Steiner
> Einstein. Don't forget our key word is "imitation".
> 
> Building such systems are a great challenge. We have seen them through SE
> Asia and India but they still collapse and explode regularly due to
> imitations not being able to mimic directly and be maintained appropriately.
> 
> If anyone feels its a waste of time they all have delete buttons.
> 
> The otherside of this form of argument is that, we need to maintain
> vigilance on what is recognised as virtuous Permaculture examples and what
> is not. Remember one cliche " Work with Nature not Against it".
> 
> I have been irritated for a number of years now of serious abuse of the
> whole world of Permaculture seeing first hand many failures and abuse under
> the guise of Permaculture. This applies at all levels. So I, for one, feel
> it is worthwhile to bring such debate up time and time again to assist in
> maintaining vigilance and reinforcement as you have both offered. To see
> and stand by watching while *"*
> *honest effort to grasp what it is, and not confuse it with something it’s
> not.*
> *​"* continues rampantly through many regions of "Permaculture"​
> 
> Thanks again for biting and offering your degrees of vigilance to build a
> more robust Permaculture community
> 
> Best regards
> Steve Hart
> 
> 
> .
> 
> On 15 May 2015 at 04:05, Toby Hemenway <toby at patternliteracy.com> wrote:
> 
>> 
>>> On May 13, 2015, at 10:17 PM, Steve Hart <stevenlawrencehart at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> 
>>> 
>> http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/05/13/seafood-shrimp-industry-fraud.aspx?e_cid=20150513Z3_DNL_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20150513Z3&et_cid=DM74728&et_rid=950105294
>> 
>> Ah, Steve’s trolling again. Okay, I’ll bite: That link was about an
>> aquaCULTURE system. That’s  CAFO farming at sea: Large scale, factory feed
>> inputs, no re-use of manure and other wastes, monoculture. Horrible stuff.
>> 
>> And it’s a totally different system from aquaPONICS, which is small scale,
>> multiple feed sources, all wastes and manures re-used and converted into
>> fertility via the same processes as in soil, and it’s polyculture.
>> 
>> Steve, this is more evidence that you don’t know what aquaponics is.
>> 
>> To critique a subject, you need to make an honest effort to grasp what it
>> is, and not confuse it with something it’s not. Otherwise you’re just
>> setting up straw men, and that wastes everyone’s time. Equating industrial
>> aquaculture with garden-scale aquaponics is like equating factory farms
>> with permaculture. Like saying CAFO beef is the same as pastured. It’s
>> simply wrong.
>> 
>> Aquaponics is not a panacea; it’s a limited-case solution. I’m in
>> agreement with Scott, that aquaponics is primarily for food deserts. And
>> for places where land is too expensive or rare for soil-based growing (e.g.
>> cities) or for experimenting with or demonstrating a method. Elsewhere,
>> let’s use soil.
>> 
>> The problem of inputs in aquaponics is easily solved. Just as in
>> agriculture, we need to use better sources: organic versus chemical,
>> essentially. But like every intensive system, it can’t produce its own
>> inputs indefinitely.
>> 
>> And that's the root of it: Aquaponics is an intensive, (nearly) closed
>> loop system, not an open, extensive system. The former always require
>> inputs.  It’s just like an intensive raised bed veggie garden: you can’t
>> grow all your fertility from only the crop wastes; you need an outside
>> source, like manure, a long fallow season or rotation, or a compost crop
>> area (which Jeavons says is 4x the food growing area). Replacing the losses
>> and harvests from an intensive system always means inputs.
>> 
>> Extensive systems, such as food forests or fish growing in a lake, can
>> generate (nearly all of) their own nutrients through natural weathering of
>> soil minerals and other ecosystem processes. That’s because, unlike a
>> raised bed, most of the system is not being harvested for human use. It’s
>> an open system that performs many ecosystem functions. Not like a raised
>> bed, which grows human food, period.
>> 
>> So either we grow most of a city’s food outside the city, or we use
>> intensive systems in the city and import inputs. That’s basic
>> thermodynamics.
>> 
>> Extensive systems require the luxury of land. Not everyone has land. The
>> land-poor either buy food or use intensive systems. Hence the interest in
>> aquaponics.
>> 
>> Toby
>> http://patternliteracy.com
>> 
>> Coming in July: my new book on urban permaculture, The Permaculture City.
>> Pre-order it at on-line booksellers or at
>> http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_permaculture_city/
>> 
>> 
>> 
>>> On May 14, 2015, at 7:50 AM, Scott Pittman <scott at permaculture.org>
>> wrote:
>>> 
>>> I, too have serious questions about aquaponics, Larry.  I have yet to
>> see a system that is regenerative and not dependent on imported inputs.  I
>> only see a value for aquaponics in "food desert" situations and in areas of
>> extreme poverty; otherwise I feel it is whistling in the dark.  Ocean
>> farming is still factory farming just in seawater.  I agree that any form
>> of factory farming is odious.
>>> 
>>> Scott
>>> 
>>> "To change something build a new model that makes the existing model
>> obsolete"  Buckminster Fuller
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>> 
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> 
> 
> 
> -- 
> Kia ora
> 
> [image: Picture]
> *Steve Hart*
> *Ecology Architect*
> *Designer, Teacher, Builder of Ecologically Sustainable Resilient
> Environments, through Urban Design, Architecture, Landscape Architecture
> and Systems Ecology.​*
> Skype: tipenemanawa
> Phone: +64 220 75 62 11
> 
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> 
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> Permaculture: -- portal to an expanding global network of landtech pioneers practicing and teaching permaculture
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