“Meals on wheels” is taking on a whole new meaning now in Reno, Nevada, where local non-profit Urban Roots partnered with the Desert Research Institute to launch “BussAqua” —a hydroponic garden inside an old school bus. The bus hosts tomato plants year-round, and is a tool to teach children all about farming, fresh food, and innovative growing techniques – like hydroponics!
In urban areas across this country, this idea would be a fun and unique way to help address the many food deserts by providing fresh mobile food. It’s also a way to provide access to education about the importance of healthy, local food to under-served communities. Read more about the BussAqua project, and tell us in the comments how a project like this might work in your community.
What happens when art, sustainability, and delicious food combine? Just ask Chef Dominique Macquet (or go check it out for yourself) at the recently opened Dominique’s on Magazine, where fresh ingredients are growing just outside the kitchen. The restaurant, once an old firehouse, is home to a courtyard “secret garden” where hydroponic vegetables and herbs grow on the walls.
Hydroponics is a method to grow plants in nutrient-rich water, without soil.
Not only are ready-to-be-picked ingredients at the chef’s fingertips year round, but the amazing vertical garden creates a natural ambiance unique in the New Orleans dining scene, and gets the conversation started about just what innovative farming, like hydroponics, can do for communities.
Chef Macquet is one of an ever-increasing group of tops chefs here in New Orleans to openly embrace hydroponic garden grown fare, and across the country, restaurants are regularly teaming up with hydroponic farmers to ensure they have fresh, local produce year round. Read about the budding partnerships between restaurants and hydroponic farms in New York City.
Amidst the many celebrations with messages about all things eco-friendly from recycling to eating local and discussions on how we humans interact with our natural environment – our creative side emerged – so from us to you, we here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition wish you a happy, healthy, thoughtful Earth Day:
Blue water, clean air
Earth – live, cherish, nurture, use
Humans, be kind – THINK!
The Gulf of Mexico—and the many people that care about and depend on it for their livelihoods — have taken a beating in recent years; major hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continue to cause long term problems. Even as Gulf fisheries struggle to recover from the devastating impacts from these catastrophes, a new threat looms on the horizon, unbelievably from the very government agency tasked with protecting our U.S. marine resources.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the federal agency responsible for conserving and managing U.S. fisheries. It has been pushing for years to allow open water aquaculture – the farming of fin fish in ocean and Gulf waters – all around the U.S. Overwhelming public opposition has to date stopped all attempts by NMFS to push through a national law allowing ocean fish farms in U.S. waters. So the agency has turned to a much less public, legally questionable way to ram through regulations allowing fish farming – with the Gulf of Mexico as the first test site.
Last month, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils that act as advisory bodies to NMFS on all things fish and fishing, approved a plan to allow open ocean fish farming in the Gulf. The plan now goes to NMFS for final approval – which could come very soon – then it becomes law. Between five and twenty industrial fish farms will be permitted and could raise up to 64 million pounds of fish each year in the Gulf of Mexico.
To someone unfamiliar with the pitfalls of ocean fish farming, this may sound like a positive development. Seafood is a very popular menu item, and wild fish populations are struggling under pressures of pollution, algal blooms and consumer demand for fish. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, starting this year, the world will consume more farmed fish than wild fish. Aquaculture is increasingly necessary to feed a growing human population, so more fish farms must be a good thing, right?
Not when it comes to open ocean fish farming, unfortunately. As they currently operate, these facilities can be harmful to both marine ecosystems and local economies.
To understand the major problems associated with ocean fish farms, it’s important to picture one: thousands of fish trapped in massive cages, eating, excreting and growing. Fish feed, antibiotics and other chemicals can be regularly pumped into the pens, and the excess washed into the surrounding waters, causing a wide range of changes in the local ecosystem. Farmed fish frequently escape, thanks to inclement weather, predators causing damage to pens, or even human error or equipment failure. Escaped fish can spread disease and parasites to wild fish and out-compete them for food, habitat and mates. As a result, ocean fish farms can threaten the health of the same wild fish populations that supposedly would benefit from reduced fishing pressure thanks to increased availability of farmed fish.
Harm to wild fish and their habitat, of course, means economic harm to the fishermen too. In addition to perhaps a reduced abundance of wild fish thanks to pollution and other problems with ocean fish farms, local fishermen are also undercut by these aquaculture operations, which can sell their industrially produced fish at lower prices.
Fish farming and commercial fishing can coexist. Fish farms need to move out of ocean waters and move on land instead. Recirculating aquaculture (raising fish in tanks on land) and aquaponics (raising fish and plants together in the same closed-loop, land-based system) are two alternative, eco-friendly fish farming methods. By operating away from natural waters, recirculating fish farms prevent escapes, and waste can be collected and in many cases even reused. In addition, land-based farms can raise a wide variety of fish and therefore need not compete with fishermen catching popular local fish. The result is what everyone wants—more fresh, local fish—without massive environmental or economic harm.
The Gulf Council’s plan, by contrast, promotes a method of aquaculture that is harmful and outdated. And it ultimately undermines the Council’s own mission – to protect the health of wild fish stocks, for their continued sustainability and for the benefit of everyone who depends on them. The decision to allow open ocean aquaculture in the very fragile Gulf is a failure of that duty, and NMFS should not move forward with permitting open water fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico – or anywhere else.
Tell the National Marine Fisheries Service we don’t want ocean fish farms in our Gulf – or anywhere else!
New Orleans’ infamous label as the “Worst Food Desert in the U.S.” was superseded by a new – and much more flattering – claim to fame: home to important “food hubs”. Yesterday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary of Agriculture announced a new report about food hubs across the United States. It’s a way to support the local food movement, highlighting what works to get food from small farmers to a public increasingly wanting to eat food from their own area.
Food hubs are businesses or organizations that offer infrastructure, support and marketing to build regional food systems. The USDA’s new report highlights best practices in the 223 food hubs identified across the country, including in New Orleans! Hollygrove Market & Farm made the list. It is a popular site that is home to a community garden, aquaponic recirculating farm demonstration system (it grows plants with fish in an innovative soil-less system), community supported agriculture program and much more.
Bravo to the many new urban farms and farmers, food activists, community coalitions, educators and many others making a positive change in the way we grow and eat! Read more here.
It’s that time of year again – when good food advocates from all around the country gather in New York City for TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat. We come together to acknowledge that conversations about food are changing. Rising obesity rates, frequent scares about contaminated food and environmental degradation have made it abundantly clear that our reliance on industrial agriculture is unsustainable. The system is broken – and we know it.
We also know ways to fix this. Current concerns with our food culture are driving researchers, entrepreneurs and farmers alike to explore new ways to produce more food using less resources, be environmentally friendly and more versatile. Recirculating farms are making significant contributions to changing the way we eat, and are now being regularly recognized as a way to grow healthy fresh food more sustainably.
These farms reuse waste, constantly filter and recycle water and can run on alternative energy like solar, wind and geothermal power. They are entirely closed-loop and can be located almost anywhere, because they are versatile in shape and size and can be designed for indoors or outside, in hot or cold climates. The ability to grow vertically, or in almost any shape and their closed-loop, soil-less nature make them especially ideal for urban environments– where growing space may be small, oddly shaped, or paved over – or where soil is too contaminated for growing food.
It’s been an amazing year here at Recirculating Farms Coalition – with the beginning of our training programs for farmers, and planning for our new education, training and research center in New Orleans, LA. We get to talk about all our progress again at TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat.
Marianne Cufone, our Executive Director, was a speaker at the event last year, and is invited back this year to give an update on our work, and also introduce Dr. AnneMarie Colbin, the CEO and Founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts – where Marianne went to culinary school!
Watch Marianne talk about recirculating farms, our Coalition and more – Check out the free live webcast of TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat online today from 10:30am est to 5:45pm est. http://bit.ly/WJEFYg
While many people were occupied with end-of-year preparations and festivities, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was busy too – it released a favorable environmental assessment of genetically engineered (GE) salmon, a move that paves the way for the agency’s approval of the fish for human consumption. This will be the first time in U.S. history that a genetically modified animal can be sold as food in the U.S. for consumers, and it is bad news for those concerned about the potential environmental and human health effects of genetically modified foods – more FDA approvals of other GE animals are likely to follow.
The fish in question is the AquAdvantage salmon, developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies. AquAdvantage salmon are Atlantic salmon whose eggs have been injected with genes from two other species of fish: ocean pout and Chinook salmon. The company claims that these genes cause the modified salmon to grow faster than their non-GE counterparts. If approved, AquAdvantage eggs will be produced at a plant in Canada, and then shipped to a facility in Panama, where the fish will be hatched, raised in tanks, collected, and processed, then shipped to the U.S. for sale.
The FDA’s environmental review centered on whether there is a risk that AquAdvantage salmon would escape or be released from their production facilities, causing harm to wild fish populations within the United States. Because the facilities are not in the United States, and GE salmon will be all female and they say, effectively sterile, the FDA concluded that the risk of harm to the U.S. is remote.
The many critics of the FDA’s assessment say that the review was not nearly comprehensive enough, that it ignored the risk that some of the fish may be fertile (and thus if any escape they may reproduce in the wild), and that the FDA has not properly considered potential health effects of eating GE fish.
Concerned that genetic alteration of fish might change its nutritional properties in harmful ways, the consumer advocacy groups Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union, and the Center for Food Safety have urged the FDA to conduct a more rigorous food safety review than is currently required. (GE technology is currently treated by the agency as a drug administered to animals rather than as an additive that might alter the properties of the food.) Consumers too are skeptical of GE technology—polls show the vast majority of U.S. consumers don’t want the FDA to approve GE salmon.
Even without food safety concerns, AquBounty’s GE salmon isn’t a requirement to increase domestic availability of seafood. Aquaponics – raising fish in tanks (similar to an aquarium) together with plants in one closed-loop recirculating system – can achieve fast growth rates for fish, making genetic modification to artificially enhance growth unnecessary. Essentially, these farms mimic a natural ecosystem, where plants and fish have a mutually beneficial relationship. And because these are entirely closed systems, they can grow a wide range of fish without concerns about escape – especially fish that local fishermen don’t catch and sell. So these farms actually ADD seafood to the local economy, rather than compete with local fishermen. Further, recirculating farms are energy, space and water efficient – and scalable – from the size of a desktop for demonstration or personal use to a larger facility for commercial farming. This means these farms can be located just about anywhere: rooftops, abandoned lots, unused buildings, even basements – in the very communities that will use the products. This cuts down on the need for shipping and refrigeration – and reduces use of fuel (and thus environmental impacts) and production costs too. These savings can be passed on to consumers – making good food more affordable and fresher. Why test GE technology on U.S. consumers when there are sustainable and more natural ways of achieving the benefits claimed from GE salmon?
Before the FDA makes its final decision on approval, it will collect and consider comments from the public on its preliminary finding of no significant environmental impact. To leave your comment, go to the online government regulations page and click on “Comment Now” in the upper right corner. The deadline is February 25. You can also read the assessment there in PDF form.
We here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition wish you a very happy and healthy 2013! In light of the start of the new year, we thought that we’d share some of our great successes from 2012, and our plans for 2013.
First, in September, we celebrated our one-year anniversary. Thanks to all of you – we had an unbelievable 1st year as a formal organization. We now work with thousands of farms, farmers, fishermen, foodies and many others from across the U.S. and around the world, and stay in contact with everyone via Facebook and Twitter. We hope to grow our network of cooperative partners and supporters even more in 2013.
We expanded our team, welcoming Amber Griffith, Christina Lizzi, Alexander “Sascha” Bollag and Katharine Davis Reich – and our Board too, with new member (and now Board President) – Sanjay Kharod.
Growling Local – Our new food and farm center located in New Orleans, Louisiana is on the move – we announced our plans to build a 2.5 acres research, training and demonstration center on National Food Day, in cooperation with our wonderful partners. We will be hosting a groundbreaking event in early 2013 with full construction following soon after – and a grand opening and program launch expected in the spring.
New and Beginning Farmer Workshops – in partnership with the New Orleans Food & Farm Network – we began our intensive market farmer trainings that include in-classroom presentations and on-the-farm hands-on learning – from sustainable growing practices to business planning. We look forward in 2013 to adding new intermediate and advanced classes, and growing an active mentorship program with our participating farmers to support more new and beginning farmers.
Mapping the Movement – on Earth Day we debuted the national database that we created with an interactive map that displays locations of commercial recirculating farms all around the country. Color coding shows if the farms are hydroponic (plants), aquaculture (fish) or aquaponic (fish and plants) and clicking on the points displays basic data for consumers – location, contact information, what products are sold and where to buy them. In 2013 we hope to add many more farms – so please get in touch if you know of a farm near you not yet on our map!
TEDx Manhattan – last year we were invited to give a presentation on recirculating farming at the TEDx Manhattan – Changing the Way We Eat event. This year, we’ve been invited back, to provide an update on our projects and introduce one of the new speakers.
We’d love to hear from you about your favorite food-related experiences from last year and any ideas, hopes and plans for 2013.
Thanks for all you do – Marianne Cufone, Executive Director
In September, we announced that we’d be hosting a training program for new and beginning urban farmers in partnership with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network (NOFFN). Together with NOFFN, we held our first workshop in NOLA last month – and it was a fabulous weekend!
We learned there are a lot of folks out there who want to start farms. We originally planned for 25 participants, but thanks to an enthusiastic response, we maxed out our space and had 36 people join in over the 2 days. Our focus was on farming methods that work in cities, including recirculating hydroponics (growing plants in continually recycled water in place of soil), aquaponics (growing fish and plants together in one water-based system), and traditional soil-based farming in raised beds and in the ground. In addition to teaching the farming methods themselves, we spent a lot of time discussing the business of farming, too — legal requirements, effective marketing techniques, and whole farm planning etc. Our hope was to give participants the knowledge they need not only to grow sustainable food but a sustainable business too.
Each morning of the two-day workshop began with breakfast, followed by classroom-style presentations with question-and-answer sessions. After a lunch break, we spent the afternoons “on the farm” with demonstrations, hands-on activities, and tours. At the close of the weekend, our wrap up was a group discussion with experienced local farmers, who will act as mentors to workshop participants as they put their new skills into practice.
This workshop, the first in hopefully a series of many, happened because many people had been requesting a farmer training program for some time. Urban farming can help address various food- related problems we see in the U.S. today: Food deserts — neighborhoods that may have plenty of fast-food chains but do not have grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables. Diet related illnesses – like obesity and diabetes. Urban farms can provide more healthy, fresh fruits, vegetables, and even fish right where food is most needed.
Urban farms can also create economic opportunities in neighborhoods that currently lack them. With the help of recirculating agriculture and other city-friendly growing techniques, anyone can turn a backyard, balcony, rooftop, alley, basement, or practically any other outdoor or indoor space into a place that produces fresh food. That food can feed farmers and their families, and it can be the basis of a successful business. As more people join the urban farming movement, they will create a vibrant local food economy in our cities. The result will be greater access to local, fresh foods and more food dollars staying within local communities!
We thank all the people who made the workshop a success: our participants, all the instructors and mentor farmers, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the USDA, whose Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is a key funder of the program (Grant #2012-49400-19676).
If you missed the November workshop, we will be running another one in the spring — join our mailing list if you haven’t already, and stay tuned!
Here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition – we are very thankful for many things, in particular all the amazing people and organizations we have met over this past year. (See some of our feature farms and people here). There are so many partnerships, colleagues and friends all working for a better food culture in the U.S. and beyond. And let’s not forget about all the recirculating farms and farmers out there! (Check out our map of commercial recirculating farms).
Our small organization began in a meeting room in Washington DC, as a group of excited people from all over the country interested in recirculating farms. Since that time in January 2009, we have grown into a new formalized non-profit organization (in September 2011) and now just over a year later, are thousands strong! Our Facebook and Twitter followers are constantly interacting and increasing in number – and we are working with so many individuals and groups to help promote healthy, fresh, sustainable, affordable food in every community nationwide. So this week when people all around the nation are remembering what they are thankful for – we THANK YOU for all that you do and look forward to more fantastic collaborative work in the months to come and next year!
Marianne Cufone, Executive Director Recirculating Farms Coalition