One of my pet peeves is false and misleading advertising. Especially when it is applied to something I care as deeply about as aquaponics. It sets people up for disappointment because their expectations are fixed unrealistically high, which tarnishes our entire industry.

As an example, here is what one vendor recently said in their newsletter about aquaponics vegetable production in a system they sell:

This small farm will feed ten adults and one child all the food they will need to be healthy – FOREVER.

This was describing an aquaponics system with 248 square feet of grow bed space. If you had 4″ wide beds, this would be 62 linear feet of grow bed space. Let’s say that each of those eleven people had an equal allocation of that grow bed space, i.e. a bit smaller than one 4″ x 6″ grow bed per person. So what would we plant in there to provide all the food one person would need to stay healthy “forever”? You might be able to cram three tomato plants, a cucumber, half a dozen pepper plants, maybe two eggplants, some lettuce, and some herbs. And, assuming that this particular aquaponics system actually works, all of those plants would most likely grow extremely well because most plants grow well in aquaponics. They would probably also grow significantly faster than they would in soil. But would this provide the quantity of food to remain healthy? Forever? What about other varieties like grains? What about other sources of protein? What about root crops? How about eggs? Some spices might be nice.

I often write and speak about the potential of aquaponics to be an important component of our future food systems. I believe strongly that aquaponics is a highly productive, organic, safe way to produce vegetables and fish. However, you will never hear me say that it is THE solution; not on a global, local or even a personal scale. Producing food for omnivores such as ourselves is a multi-faceted enterprise, and while a diet of fish (in this case, tilapia) and vegetables arguably has wonderful health benefits, without additional food types it is hardly a complete, balanced, or interesting diet.

We are often asked “what size system should I get to feed my family of X?” Our typical response is to say that we can’t answer that question without an understanding of many factors, including their family’s produce needs, the system’s environment, what lighting it will receive, what the gardening experience level of the caretaker is, etc. But what we can do is to offer a framework for thinking about what they can expect from a media-based aquaponics system versus a traditional soil garden. Your aquaponics system plants will grow almost twice as fast, and you can place your plants significantly closer together than you would in soil because they don’t need to compete for water, food and oxygen in the root zone, thereby yielding substantially more food per square foot than in traditional soil gardens. All of this with no weeds, no bending, no watering (except re- filling tanks) and no fertilizing (except feeding the fish)… And you will also have fish to eat! That by itself is a story with tremendous appeal, don’t you think? No exaggeration needed.

Next post: Misleading information with regard to fish production.