Aquaponics best means to increase local food

Danielle Broida

Food justice has quickly become the latest environmental buzz. “Eat local” campaigns have spread across the nation, seen primarily in the rise in farmers’ markets from 1,755 markets in 1994 to over 7,864 in 2012. However, local alone does not mean sustainable or good.

Bon Appétit, marketed as “food services for a sustainable future,” has noticed the necessity for sustainable food and thus created nationwide policies and campaigns to reduce their impact on the global climate as it relates to food production. They launched the “Farm to Fork” and “Low Carbon Diet” programs because many consumers are unaware that “agriculture and the food system overall is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Going into a supermarket and having every type of fruit, vegetable and meat available for purchase on any given day of the year has completely blinded our society. Noticing the massive deception and injustice in America’s food system, Bon Appétit made it their goal “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions created by the highest impact areas of [their] business by 25 [percent].” Their campaigns aim to reduce purchases that have traveled far distances from the burning of fossil fuels in transportation.

To offset food travel and import, one of Bon Appétit’s founding principles is to purchase a minimum of 20 percent of their food from “local” farms. Walla Walla seems like an agricultural paradise, surrounded in all directions by massive fields of wheat, onions and garbanzo beans. Yet upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that the vast majority of our “local” farms are far from exhibiting environmental consciousness around the importance of local food.

But local food is not as simple as it appears: There is a catch. To Bon Appétit, a “local” farm is not merely defined by geographic distance. In order for a farm to be eligible for the Farm to Fork program it must be within 150 miles of the Bon Appétit kitchen, be owner-operated and earn $5 million or less in annual sales.

The majority of Walla Walla farms are far from qualifying as models of “sustainable”  food production. Many farms are monocultures (a single crop is grown on the same land for a period of time), use chemical pesticides and grow produce in massive quantities to be exported to cities around the country. Their practices strip the soil of nutrients without replenishment, drown the land in toxic chemical fertilizers, increase erosion and damage the health of the environment.

In a place like Walla Walla, a large-scale agriculture Eden, Bon Appétit struggles to meet the Farm to Fork quota and thus has little room to hope that their 20 percent requirement will ever be exceeded without changing current purchasing patterns. Because our “local” farms rarely qualify as such, the only way to increase the amount of sustainable local food is to employ creative, alternative systems: I propose aquaponics.

Aquaponics is a closed-loop food production system. The name “aquaponics” is derived from the portmanteau of “hydroponics” (cultivating plants in water) and “aquaculture” (farm fishing).

In aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the byproducts from the aquaculture are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals.

A subset of students in Sustainable Agriculture at Whitman (SAW) has already begun researching, planning and attempting to convince Bon Appétit that our climate crisis demands creative alternatives to local food injustices. It is time to open our eyes to the reality of where our food comes from, allow our minds to think outside of the outdated monoculture past and push for creative, alternative and sustainable solutions to increase production of local food.