Saturday, April 20, 2013


That's the name of my imaginary business. It's like having an imaginary friend, but for adults, a species I'm still unwilling to admit I am a part of, though I am perhaps willing to concede to some shared traits. Aquaponica is what I spend my spare daydreaming bandwidth on, when it's not clogged up with shadow debating gay marriage, or gun control, or the place for government owned industries. Aquaponica is a constantly changing concept which has been being slowly refined over the past half year or so, molded by time and the classes I'm in, into something that may actually be viable.

Some business student out there is probably thinking that I shouldn't be sharing my business ideas with the world, and to them I say this "A: I'm just cocky enough to think that no matter how much of my idea I share, no one will be able to execute it as well as I can, and thus I can out compete them, and B, lets face it this is pretty much just a personal journal that happens to be online, it's not like anyone reads this tripe".

So what the hell is it?

A bad name? Probably. An awesome concept for bringing the locavore movement to it's asymptote and using that asymptote as a symbiote for a probiote of a system which promotes healthy eating and sustainable production? Might be, if many of those words weren't made up. On the other hand we are talking about an imaginary business, so what's wrong with imagining some words?

Here's a quick list of things you'll have to know/accept to get the idea, skip any you already know... you know, if you feel like it.

Aquaponics- Some of you might know about hydroponics, which is plants grown without soil, all/most of their nutrients being delivered by the water which has a nutrient solution dissolved into it. Hydroponics is appreciated because it reduces disease and pests, and allows for careful tailoring of the nutrients to achieve tremendous growth. It is water intensive because the water has to be drained and replaced periodically to avoid the accumulation of dangerous chemicals which the plants cannot use and thus do not filter out of the water (salts mostly I think). Aquaponics is hydroponics+fish, except the fish provide the nutrients (for the most part) instead of added chemicals, while the plants filter the water for the fish, creating a system which requires far fewer inputs (the water is recycled, with most of the loss coming from transpiration) and requires less maintenance and care than either aquaculture (farming fish) or hydroponics. If this sounds familiar it's because a well known laboratory has been working on this model for quite some time, around 500 million years (pssst. the "laboratory" is earth).

Locavore- A movement which pushes the importance of eating food which has been produced near where it is being consumed. The main reason for this is to reduce carbon emissions associated with transporting food long distances, but there is also the desire for increased local self-reliance, and support for local businesses, and the advantages of freshness. It is fairly popular at the moment, and may well grow more popular as things like Global Climate Change (GCC) and Peak Oil (PO) begin to be recognized and felt more.

Peak Oil- Speaking of which. We are living on a finite planet, using finite resources. One of the main resources around which we have built our society around is petroleum ("oil"). PO is really more than just about petroleum though, it is short hand for the reality as we use more and more fossil fuels of all sorts, the amount available decreases, and the difficulty of accessing what IS there increases. For petroleum we are at, near, or past the point of peak production, which means costs will rise from now on, and probably faster than inflation. This means that infrastructures which are predicated on the cheap availability of fossil fuels are going to become increasingly expensive to maintain, and thus less competitive. This includes both conventional farming (which using tremendous amounts of petroleum to produce fertilizers and pesticides, in addition to running their large machines) and the global distribution network. Any good which has a large portion of it's cost devoted to transportation is likely going to see it's input costs rise as the various peaks are passed over the next decade or so.

Global Climate Change-It's happening, just fucking accept it. It means more extreme weather, which means less reliable weather. Droughts and floods will both occur more often, and be more extreme.

Food Dessert- These are areas in cities where it is difficult or impossible to find fresh food, typically poor areas where people are by virtue of price, culture, knowledge, and time less likely to purchase fresh foods, and therefore stores to not carry any. This creates a vicious cycle in which kids are raised on processed and unhealthy foods, and thus as adults seek those foods out, and give them to their kids, and it is at the heart of the plethora of health problems for which a major predictor is socioeconomic standing and location.

So the idea.
An aquaponic farm in the city, which includes a restaurant which serves the fish, poultry, and produce which is grown on site.

That's the basic framework, the details are where it gets really sexy.
First of all the whole set up has to be made beautiful, and the restaurant has to be cleanly integrated into the "farm". The restaurant will be filling a niche which for the most part doesn't exist. Many restaurants buy local food, some even grow some of the food they sell on the property, but I know of none where you can eat surrounded by the plants that grew your food, next to the tank that housed the fish you're eating, hearing the chickens that provided the eggs and meat. This means that the local aspect is a serious selling point, and should be emphasized, by making sure the whole farm is beautiful and clean, people will be encouraged to go out among the plants, and be confident that their food is being produced safely, sustainably, and ethically. This could even be integrated into the dining process by allowing people to go out and harvest the vegetables that will be used in their meal. A menu could include a list of ingredients that could be gathered by the diner, allowing them to pick precisely the food they want, even choosing different varieties of the same crop to give each dish a unique character. This would mean that part of the work of harvesting is turned into an added value to the customer, the value of choice (including the choice to NOT harvest their own food).

Another variation on this concept is the possibility of growing flowers around the space, in particular in ways which could be moved and arranged, so the space could be used as an event space, with living plants inside a climate controlled environment, which has been beautifully designed and built, and includes a commercial kitchen to produce food. Essentially the perfect wedding or other major event venue, since the flowers would be alive and growing, the food would be as fresh as it is possible to be, and there would be no worry about rain. We could offer a combination service, the food, the venue, and the flowers (including arrangement), and then the flowers could be cut and sold for off site events. Legally selling the exact same flower to two different people? Brilliant.

Then there's the opportunities offered by all that slow time in the kitchen, and all those veggies which weren't quite pretty enough for the customers to ask out on a dinner date, but who's insides are good as gold. Well, we just run that kitchen as often as we need to turn out a whole bunch of value-added products made from the unused produce. Sauces, pestos, frozen pizzas, canned goods, jams, herb mixes, and more could be produced and sold on site, in stores, or as part of a CSA.

Remember those flowers, and how pretty they were, and how good of a product they were on account of their high value? Well guess what, the fish can get in on this too, and not just fish. I think it's time for a break from reading, so here's a bit of beautiful for you to look at.
What the what? Is that real? Yup, blue marron, the most fabulous crustacean this side of the mantis shrimp
The best part about the above is that they are also delicious (though from what I can tell that bright blue doesn't survive the cooking process) so any marron that AREN'T blue shelled bombshells can just be cooked up and served as an exotic freshwater lobster equivalent. Beyond pretty crustaceans there's also Koi and other ornamental fish which can be sold for good prices and perform well in aquaponic systems. We could even sell ornamental fishtank+flower combos to people/companies which will maintain themselves so long as fish food is added. There's no end of commercialization opportunities.
As for how this can help solve food desserts I'll get to that later.

No comments: