[permaculture] Natural hydroponics, aquatic foodweb & quality food

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Tue Apr 16 10:57:00 EDT 2013

On Apr 13, 2013, at 1:46 PM, Douglas Hinds wrote:

> Now I get it - You HAVE to take these positions (that aren't really yours), as an EXPERT on Permaculture

Ah, we've degenerated to personal insults.

> perhaps you believe that hydroponics recreates life in the sea

And here I thought we could make an effort to understand and converse rather than twist words to score debating points. Sigh. 

> That's what the Pro-GMO people say.

Next you'll compare me to Hitler and then we can invoke Godwin's law, and that will end it.

>  it's (what I write here) is about ... ME! My life, my food.

I've figured out what works well for me, too, and with that done, my interest is to help others where things are obviously not working well for them, like that neighborhood in Denver. If that looks to you like taking positions that aren't really mine, then you are welcome to your judgment. I have access to soil and gardens. They don't. So I help them look at their options, even if I don't need that particular solution right now.

Some people (not Douglas, perhaps) feel that rainwater harvesting using galvanized metal roofing with baked enamel paint, plastic or metal pipes, metal, plastic, or concrete cisterns, and usually a pump and pressure tank constitutes permaculture design, while the same materials used to grow fish and plants in a closed loop system do not. I think, understandably, that we are comfortable with systems already in place even when they are tech-heavy, but we don't like to see new systems emerge that are tech heavy. 

What I like about aquaponics is that it produces high yields of both plant and animal food in a tiny footprint, has low maintenance inputs once established (like any good Pc system), can be set up as an intensive, small scale system, and is a very clear, easily graspable way to demonstrate a closed-loop, whole system, which is something most people have a very hard time understanding. The food tastes good to me, but perhaps I don't vibrate on as pure an etheric plane as others. 

To move away from obviously fruitless opinionating about whether we like aquaponics or not, I offer something from one of my mentors, Tom Ward, that helps me see where some technologies fit. Tom classes our designs in 3 categories, quick fix, retrofit, and ultimate permaculture. Let's say we are in a place with a leaky gutter and droughty plants. First we do:

The quick fix: put a bucket under the leak and dump the stored water on dry plants.

But also plan to do

The retrofit: repair the gutter and direct the downspout toward the dry plants, which maybe you have mulched, too.

And when you have time and resources, do

Ultimate permaculture: build a rainwater harvesting system, build the soil to hold water, mulch, swale, etc, etc. so we minimize long-term inputs, etc. etc.

Most design work is retrofit, since there is so much to fix. But often a crummy quick fix is needed fast, while ultimate Pc is where we want to go. I see aquaponics as part of the retrofit stage in a broken culture. A  relevant solution at a certain point, but in the long run we want ultimate permaculture, when urban soils are remediated so we can grow food on them, everyone has land, money, and the education to do critical thinking about food issues, everyone has the freedom to leave the US or go wherever when they want, and all that. Meanwhile, I see a role for techs and activities that are less than perfect if they increase quality of life in easily measured ways like providing alternatives to industrial food.


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