Can Milwaukee foster a new trend in urban farming, without putting a shovel in the ground?
Earlier this year, the city received a IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant, which provides $500,000 for three weeks of consulting to help the city develop a plan to grow its “aquaponics” industry.
Aquaponics are closed-circuit food production system. Simply put, fish are raised in a tank of water that circulates from the plants and back into the tank. Using a series of pumps and pipes, the water with fish waste is pumped into a gravel bed where the plants are growing, which provides nutrients for the plants. In turn, the plants clean up the water for the fish. We’ve written about aquaponics before on SmartPlanet as a small-scale garden, not a scaled-up city-wide industry.
But the city isn’t starting from scratch with its aquaponics initiative. The nonprofit Growing Power has been influential on larger-scale aquaponics and a handful of startups are growing food to supply local restaurants. Governing explains how a larger-scale aquaponics industry would play out in Milwaukee:
Plan supporters envision warehouse-sized aquaponics operations that are equipped with sophisticated sensing devices to boost efficiency, and backed by research that multiplies fish spawning cycles and boosts crop production. These facilities could be housed in vacant buildings in poor neighborhoods, providing jobs and a supply of nutritious, locally produced food for residents. In the bigger picture, proponents want Milwaukee to develop industry leading expertise in technologies, science and distribution techniques that will move aquaponics out of the basement and into large-scale use.
A full-scale aquaponics industry in Milwaukee might still be years away, but they have good roots growing. If successful, it could be a good model for cities that are struggling with water quantity and food desert issues.
Check out IBM’s video on aquaponics in Milwaukee: