160: It’s Aquaponics!

Matt and Sean talk about water-based agricultural approaches to save healthy food production in climate-changing times. Combining aquaculture with hydroponics has some interesting benefits.
Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Is Aquaponics the Future of Agriculture?” https://youtu.be/59kk4OjJCj4?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still Gonna Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about why you might want some fish in your salad. Hey everybody, as usual. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some stuff for kids. I write some sci-fi and I’m just generally curious about technology and luckily for me, my brother is that Matt Ferrell of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which talks about technology and it’s impacting our lives.

Matt, how are you doing today? I’m doing pretty well.

Pretty good weekend. How about you? How about. I was

happy to have today’s weather here in the city turn to a gorgeous, sunny, nice spring day, which led to me and my partner wandering around our neighborhood and doubling back and forth and just putting in, I don’t even know how many miles we may have walked, but it’s only mid-afternoon and I’m exhausted.

So , not too shadowy, afer way, yes, . But it’s been a lovely weekend and I hope I have everybody who’s out there listening. This will of course drop on a weekday, but I hope everybody’s having some nice entries into spring as we get into some warmer weather across the country. On today’s episode, we’re gonna be talking about aquaponics, which is recreation in a controlled environment of what happens in the natural environ.

And trying to achieve that kind of balance. Balance to gain benefits of both agricultural growth and fish hatchery. Effectively kind of taking two birds with one stone. But before we get into that, I wanted to share some comments from a previous episode. This is from our conversation that we had last time, which was on gas stoves and the unfortunate toxic byproducts that accompany gas stoves regardless of whether you’re using it or not.

There were comments like this from Reed Cornman who shared this. I switched from gas to induction back in 2022 before the Infl Inflation Reduction Act came to be. It’s been great to cook with and even better to live with. We have a medium sized house, three small kids. And I can immediately tell that the air quality has been improved dramatically.

I checked using a cheap $20 air quality monitor from eBay before getting the new range, and the CO2 levels were almost always above a thousand. And after cooking, they were around 1300. Switching to induction, brought the CO2 levels down below 800 even after cooking. I also did stress to my family that we needed to run the fan to keep the toxic levels to a reasonable level.

It has made a much larger difference in that area. Even if it didn’t help the CO2 levels, we did have to cap off the gas run and also run a new high electric power. Breaker, but almost all of those costs would’ve been covered by the inflation reduction Act. So now is a great time to do this. I think that’s even, it’s fantastic if, yeah, it’s a good, it’s a good anecdote kind of.

Mm-hmm. , you know, like encapsulates the idea of this isn’t, A fully life. Yeah. Like you don’t have to change everything you do with your day. You don’t have to change how you live. It is, if nothing else. I think the one thing that listeners could take from this, the simplicity of just getting a air quality monitor.

Oh my God. Yeah, they’re not that expensive. This be the best starting point for you and just begin to experiment in your home. Getting a $20 air monitor. Yeah, and then saying, okay, when I cook, what if I have the fan running? What if I have a window open? What if I like just little things like that to really kind of see what’s going on in the home, because as Matt pointed out in his video, And as we talked about in our conversation, and maybe we didn’t hammer on it enough, this is an invisible problem.

So it’s really gets a sense of the details is,

is critical. It’s also gonna vary house to house. Every house is unique. So I, I love his comment because it shows what his house was like before and after. It’s like everybody’s gonna be different. If you got an air quality for your tester, for yourself, you can see what your house is like right now and do put on your little scientific lab coat and do some experiments on your own.

And it’s not that hard. and you’ll learn a whole lot about your house and what’s gonna make it better, safer, and more efficient for yourself. So it’s, it’s, it’s really smart and it’s not expensive. It’s like 20 or 30 bucks to get a pretty decent one online. So it’s like you can do it very quickly and very


There was also this from Kevin Busker who was picking up on my comment of, if you’re not able to change your stove and oven, which here in the US we talked, a big part of our conversation was how our cook appliances are combo appliances. So for an American market, replacing just the stove top is not necessarily possible.

But there was this from Kevin Busker who picked up on my comment of, does anybody make anything that you could just put on top of a stove top and then put induction on top of that? And Kevin, , I would suggest one of those wooden covers that go on top of your range, not always gas, and you could place the induction stove on top of that.

So I did a quick Google. Yeah. And discovered there are in fact wooden stove tops covers that you just put over, and they’re intended to be adding to a small kitchen for cutting space. Basically repeat counterspace. Yeah. Yeah, but if you were to get one of those just cover up and then use it as counterspace with an induction on top, I think that would be an interesting solution.

And I am toying with that idea myself. So if I go that route, I’ll let, I’ll let you all know. And I’m even thinking if I do go that route, I should get the air tester and do the whole thing and just really see like, what is the benefit here? So you need to film it

and then we can, we can put it on.

There we go.

So on today’s conversation we’re gonna be talking about aquaponics. This is based on Matt’s most recent episode, which was Is Aquaponics the Future of Agriculture. Question mark. This episode dropped on March 21st, 2023, and my first question to you, After watching this mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. was, is this sadly a case of having to wait for the worst case scenario to push this forward as now the best case?

Meaning are we waiting until the agricultural systems that we currently live with collapse because of environmental change? Until this kind of, well, we’re gonna build a bunch of covered greenhouses. We’re gonna start with aquaponics because even though aquaponics right now would be a more expensive option than a regular agriculture, Is this merely waiting for agriculture to bottom out and become impossible for aquaponics to be the solution?

Sadly, in some cases, yes. . Yeah, it’s one of those. There’s gonna be a time in the future where like vertical hydroponics and aquaponic systems, they may not drop in huge amount of like production costs, but because farming has become so difficult, it just may become the rosy picture for us. But that’s taking a kind of a bleak look.

I kind of look at it in a different way for today. It’s like it doesn’t make sense for everywhere. It’s like there are places where farming is just fine and it’s much cheaper to do and it’s, you know, we can, we know how to do regenerative farming and be take care of the land. We can do it properly, but there are areas of the world that don’t have that option today.

Yeah. And then you have to factor in, okay, if they’re gonna get fresh, fresh produce in that area of the. How are they transporting it in? How old is the produce when it gets there? How much does it cost to transport that produce? And so the final cost of that little tomato that ends up some. Where it’s difficult to get to might be crazy expensive, and that may be more expensive than setting up an aquaponic system or vertical, you know, hydroponic system in that area.

So it’s like this, it comes back to there’s no silver bullet to solve all the things. It’s not like I, I don’t wanna stand on the hilltop saying everybody has to do aquaponics across the board. It’s like, no. It, it’s, it’s, it says the right solution for that area, but I think it’s gonna become more and more attractive Yeah.

In time. Partially because, as you pointed out, the sad reality that some areas are just gonna become harder and harder to farm. Other reasons is I think the cost of doing this is gonna drop, uh, like the, the company I highlighted in the video, they have a profitable, uh, a profitable facility. In Wisconsin, like right now.

So it’s like the fact that they’re doing it and you see more of these things getting built around the country. Like there’s one being built up in, in Maine right now. So it’s like it’s, it’s happening. So it’s, it just might be slow right now cause it’s a little more on the pricey side. But in time that should


It’s also, I think it depends on how you argue for it. And I think there are arguments to be made for aquaponics as a tool for infrastructure redevelopment development in some communities. Yeah. Jobs, opportunities in certain communities. I keep thinking about you take a a region of the country where industry left and the whole rust belt through the us.

And certain parts of the world where there are large urban areas, but there aren’t enough jobs. And thinking in terms of aquaponic farming as cluster employment as opposed to one industrial center, like you talked about it in your video, the idea of this being an enormous scale. Isn’t really realistic.

Mm-hmm. that even if you had an enormous aquaponics facility, it would actually be small clusters of these nestled with each other. So I keep thinking about, you know, the one you mentioned, uh, here in the US Midwest, I kept thinking about areas like Detroit. I kept thinking about through Western New York where you and I grew up, and the opportunities for environments like that, where during the winter, I mean, it’s bleak, cold, like you do not have the ability to grow anything.

But what if on some of the. Some of the, uh, now empty urban facilities, and I’m thinking particularly in Rochester where you and I grew up, the Kodak Industrial Complex, which is now just hundreds if not thousands of acres of just nothing, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with this. Would building something.

like this kind of homegrown industrial, yeah. Farming be a solution and then you’re gaining, it’s almost like the byproduct is the food. It’s almost like if your point is the jobs and the repurposing of a new industry in a community that lost something else, that becomes. Pro market and then the positive byproduct of the food growth is just a secondary thing.

Yeah. I, I, I,


that just got me think of like, obviously we’re from Rochester, so it’s the land of Wegmans. For those who don’t know, Wegmans is a very popular Yeah. Supermarket chain in that, that region, it would be kind of like, I wonder, would it make sense for a kind of regional supermarket chain to set up their own aquaponic facilities or vertical hydroponic systems so that they could, in regions like that, have fresh produce, year round metal, what the weather’s doing outside?

If there’s a blizzard of two feet of snow, it doesn’t matter. There’s still producing fresh produce right in the middle of upstate fresh vegetables

and fresh fish that Right, right from their stores, from their. .

I wonder if that would make sense for them, because in the middle of winter it would probably be, it might be cheaper to do that than to try to ship in fresh produce from else.

Sounds like you and I are gonna have to make a call to Danny Wegman. . Yes. There were lots of comments on this video that I thought were worth sharing. Like this one from Colin Tilbrook who wrote, I think one of the most obvious missed opportunities in aquaponics is old quarries. In Ontario, we have literally thousands of abandoned quarries with standing groundwater levels that would allow you to tent over the entire opening.

The water is commonly 50 feet deep, so the ability to grow less common lake fish that prefer cold water is unique. Plus utilizing what many people see as desolate scars in the landscape. To produce food and generate for the economy in what are often small town resources, extraction bases hits on a lot of beneficial points.

I think this goes right in the vein of what we were talking about of creative thinking. Mm-hmm. around where you are and what you have and the idea of. An abandoned quarry, what else are you gonna do with that terrain? And one of the things that you pointed out in your video was you can’t really use a lot of open air water sources because of evaporation and the introduction of, uh, contaminants into the, into the water, which would potentially disrupt the entire cycle that you’re looking to manage.

Mm-hmm. . as he points out the idea of taking something and tenting it. Is there any place that you’re aware of where this has been utilized? The tenting of a water source in

this way? I had not come across any of that. Uh, my team and I, when we pulled this together, everything we were seeing was, you know, typically it was like, Like little bins being set up that you put fish in.

It wasn’t like utilizing existing ponds or quarries or things like that. It was like a self-contained system, which gives you complete control over this kind of like, I don’t wanna say it’s hermetically sealed , but it’s kind of like in that sense of you have complete control over that ecosystem that you’re building, where if you’re tenting over something that’s already existing, , I, I, I wonder if there’s logistics issues and complications from

trying to do that.

Yeah. There’s also this comment. There’s a few that kind of go hand in hand, like this one from Arid who wrote, I have a 90 gallon fish tank with having to do water changes. I’ve been looking into an aquaponic, hydroponic growing system. I don’t want to grow my plants in the same location, but do want to utilize the water to grow indoor lettuce and tomato.

I currently water all of my house plants from the tank and they thrive from the dirty water. I think it’s interesting the idea of, of small home grown opportunities to do this kind of thing. You’re not necessarily gonna be raising a 90 gallon fish tank and then eating your fish, but mm-hmm. to actually grow some lettuce, some tomato.

In a homegrown environment like that could be a lot of fun. There was also this from Kriol who wrote, I would love to hear more about the quote, hobby setups. Could I use my garage and feed myself with it? I like the idea of just going out and plucking a fish and some salad for dinner. Last time I saw something about it, I was a bit of the permaculture rush.

I was so fascinated by that, and I think they mentioned that they use food scraps and stuff to feed the fish also. Do you know of any kind of. Setups that are marketing toward the hobbyist of, of like a quick way to set something like this up. Not necessarily, again, to pull a fish out of the tank. I don’t think that that’s a realistic goal.

If you’re thinking, well, if I just do this in my garage, I can have fish all the time. You wouldn’t be able to have fish all the time. This is

extremely popular in the diy, self-sufficiency, off-grid, whatever kind of that bucket. It’s extremely popular. All I have to do is just go into YouTube and type.

Aquaculture or aquaponics, and you will see just a never ending stream of videos. That’s all. Like, I did this in my yard, I did this. It’s like people, you know, buying PVC pipes and setting up their own systems. So this is something that is very popular in that community, but I have not seen anything that is like a kit or something that you buy that’s kind of ready made for you to kind of set up.

It’s typical. some basic instructions on how to set things up. And you get into the community and then you buy your own parts at Home Depot and you kinda set up your own thing. So that’s typically what it seems to be. Um, and if you’re getting gonna get something that’s ready made, it tends to be like, , here’s your little goldfish aquarium with a thing that you slap on top and it has like a couple like herbs that grow on top of it, right?

It’s like something that’s really small that you put in your window, but nothing in that kind of like small to medium size range that you be putting in your garage or in your backyard. It tends to be you have to build it yourself, but there’s a huge community around that.

Right? So it’s more of a straight up hobbyist or Yeah, off-grid.

Sort of sustain self-sustaining, like I’m doing this for. Much larger footprint impacts than just something casually to have as far as food on the table at night. Occasionally.

Yeah, that’s, that’s kind of what I was interested in looking into this because I knew it’s very popular in that DIY community, but I was curious like how much of this is happening at a large scale?

Cause like if you’re somebody that doesn’t have any interest in doing this, or you can’t do this for some reason, , is there a way that you can benefit from it? Right. And it’s like, I was curious about who’s trying to scale this up. And there are companies obviously that are trying to do it, but by and large this is very, a very popular DIY approach.

And in your research, did you find the vertical agricultural model is already integrated into this? Or was that a place where you found that there was a gap between what people were trying to do on the industrial scale? Are those two communities not really meshed?

Oh no. It, it depends. It, it just like, it’s about space.

The ver, the vertical hydroponic kind of setup is just a space issue, a setup issue. It’s just, it’s kind of like an implementation detail. Do you wanna do it or not? Does it fit the crop you’re trying to grow or not? So it’s, it’s not like they haven’t meshed because as I pointed out in the video, aquaponics is kind of, you know, aquaculture mixed with hydroponics and those two things put together.

So it’s, there’s so many different ways that you can set this kind of stuff up. It’s not that they’re unrushed, it’s just a a

choice. Finally, I wanted to share this from j a w who wrote, I have been researching aquaponics for over a decade. Aquaponics is one of those things that in the end, will better fit into a sustainable, off-grid solar, wind operation for a family or small community with outside resources that could help recover failure years.

on the smaller basis, things seem to really work out. If you’re not trying for the profit margins, investors demand and you’re only creating resources directly for the gardeners. I think that’s right now where that meshes with what you were just saying about the DIY community. Mm-hmm. and, and who the audience for this largely is.

But like all the things that Matt talks about on his channel, I don’t think. Matt very often brings up these kinds of DIY and emerging market goals if they’re not already starting to creep into a larger scale industrial, uh, market. And so I think that this is one of those things that in. a handful of years, and this does not look like some of the other technology you talk about on your channel where we’re talking 15, 20 years from now.

Maybe you will see some fruit from this. This looks like, and again, not to make a joke about growing fruit, but that’s what I say. Is that an intentional joke? , that was totally unintentional. Uh, but it feels like this is, Likely just around the corner from some communities to have these kinds of things in their, in their area.

And I know that in, I mean, I live in New York City, but there are some community gardens mm-hmm. that use this kind of, uh, setup in their, their scope of what they’re trying to do. And so I think it’s only a matter of time before more people start seeing these in their. .

Yeah. Like I mentioned, the one that’s being built in Maine, like right now, , it’s gonna be operational in probably within two years.

It’ll probably be operational. I actually reached out to them saying, when it’s gonna be done, can I come by? And they were just like, you can absolutely come by, but it’s not gonna be running for a couple years. Cause they have to build it, staff it, set it up. So it’s, we’re gonna see these spring up in more and

more communities.

It’ll be interesting. Interesting to see where they take. and listeners, do you have something Again, that was a totally unintentional. It was genius, Sean, I’m looking bears root now where things are taking root, but let me know listeners, where do you see these? Do you see these in your communities or do you see a space where these could fit in in your communities?

And do you see various byproducts coming out of this that we didn’t manage to see ourselves? Let us know in the comments. As you should know by now, your comments really do drive the content of not only this program, but they help Matt with his program. The original mothership, undecided with Matt Ferrell.

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