In the Chicago neighborhood where I live, I’m lucky to have a small Green Grocer that specializes in local organic food and drinks. When Mark and I recently tried some tilapia fillets from Aquaranch, we were blown away by the freshness and flavor of the fish. We asked Green Grocer’s Cassie Green about the product and she referred us to Aquaranch owner Myles Harston, an innovator in aquaponics who grows fish and organic vegetables just a few hours south of Chicago, in Flanagan, Illinois.
As Mark explained in a recent post, Aquaponics is a relatively new approach to food production that utilizes the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment. The beauty of aquaponics is that it offers a solution to a major issue in raising fish: what to do with fish waste. Instead of polluting the surrounding area with tons of raw sewage, the waste becomes a beneficial fertilizer for plants.
Myles Harston of AquaRanch Industries has been working with aquaponics 1992. At his innovative facility, he grows tilapia and a wide variety of certified organic vegetables including lettuce, kale, chard, herbs, tomatoes, and hot peppers. Myles is hoping to become certified for organic fish production as soon as that standard, currently under development, is finalized by the USDA.
Because all inputs can be measured throughout the lifespan of the tilapia, Myles can guarantee a product free from heavy metals like Mercury (which wild-caught fish are often exposed to in our oceans and lakes) and free from hormonal manipulation. Many people are not aware that farm-raised fish often undergoes a sex change to the gender which grows the fastest. For example, in tilapia, the males grow faster so conventional producers change all the females to male. At Aquaranch, Myles spawns the fish himself to ensure that his process is all-natural.
While touring the facility, it occurred to me that Aquaponics could be a great solution for urban land-locked environments in need of safe, fresh food. Myles mentioned that this process could be done in old warehouses with rainwater collected on the rooftops!