Current environmental conditions are catapulting community resilience to the forefront of the public agenda. Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions have made food security not just a problem faced by the “Third World” (IPCC, 2007), but now an impending issue faced by all members of the globe. Unsustainable water consumption, pollution from nitrates and pesticides, as well as GHG and particulate matter air pollution have become widespread and resulted in adverse, cumulative impacts.
Thankfully, legislatures have recognized the need to incorporate innovative food production systems into urban settings and are finding ways to stimulate this sector. In 2014, California passed AB 551 permitting counties to establish “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.” These zones allow private property owners to receive property tax incentives in exchange for restricting the use of their property to urban agriculture for 10 years. Additionally, San Francisco recently opted in to the AB 551 program and passed a land use and economic development ordinance that further “connects City residents to the broader food system.” There is no question that this new policy environment will enable local food production to proliferate throughout the Bay Area as well as in other cities that opt into the Incentives Zones initiative.
However, legislatures are not the only ones who recognize the need to change common practices. One innovative response driven by agricultural entrepreneurs is taking root in the urban setting. These community-oriented actors are working to localize food supply chains using aquaponics. Their hope is to create resilient and sustainable food systems with minimal environmental impacts. For them ‘business as usual’ is off the menu.
Traditionally, there have been two main barriers to efficient urban food production; insufficient yield to meet local demand and the inability to financially break even. According to Aqua Gardens Family Farm, a leading aquaponic grower in Northern California, the advantages of aquaponics over conventional practices address these barriers. Aquaponic systems yield 4 to 10 times more produce per acre than field grown methods and, because of the contained nature of aquaponic systems, have lower operating expenses and use significantly less resources.
Given the many positive environmental benefits associated with aquaponics, such as 90% less water consumption and zero water and air pollution, when compared to conventional agricultural practices, Aquaponics is clearly the sustainable food production system for the future. Hopefully, given the shifts in public policy, such systems will go from being innovations for the future to the reality of today.