I love where I live. Boulder, Colorado is filled with brilliant, creative, passionate people. To an outside observer, my small town at the foot of the Rockies may appear a bit wacky, but one person’s wacky is another’s enthusiastic, innovative mind. I think it is these minds that will be so critical in solving the problems we face in the 21st century. Boulder has an entire accredited university here nourishing those minds called Naropa University.

Fishing elfNaropa is, to the best of my knowledge, the only Buddhist inspired university in the United States. Their unique approach is called ‘contemplative education’. Their website says “Contemplative education is learning infused with the experience of awareness, insight and compassion for oneself and others, honed through the practice of sitting meditation and other contemplative disciplines”. I’ve been a guest lecturer at Naropa in the Permaculture program in the past. Through that opportunity I was introduced to a group of students who I’ve been advising over the past month on an aquaponics system for their Permaculture Design Certification project.

Naropa has one of the wonderful geodesic dome greenhouses made by Growing Spaces. These greenhouses feature an 800 gallon water tank as a heat sink which clearly needed fish! The permaculture project group set out to build an aquaponics system inside the greenhouse.

Naropa University aquaponics

Kellie and Dan

  • The challenge: they needed to share the greenhouse with their soil-loving friends. This meant that they couldn’t use the entire 800 gallons of heat sink water for aquaponics because they wouldn’t have sufficient grow bed space to filter it.
  • The solution: Bathtubs! They decided to float a 55 gallon bathtub in the heat sink, and suspend another bathtub above it as a grow bed.

Using Murray Hallam’s Bathtub Aquaponics instructions, they fashioned a well-functioning aquaponics system. The only hitch so far is trying to get the water temperature into the 70’s. They now realize that they need to heat all the water in the heat sink and are trying to figure out how to do that using their solar panels.

Bathtub Aquaponics systemThe group leader, Dan, told me last week that his goal is to use the success of the project to convince the Naropa leadership to take on aquaponics as a part of the Permaculture curriculum, and work to become academic leaders in the study of sustainable aquaponic system design. A worthy goal indeed.

A fun side note is that Dan was so enthusiastic about the project that he wanted to build his own bathtub system for the screened in porch at his home. His wife objected on aesthetics grounds (can you imagine?) so his mother stepped in and bought him an AquaBundance system for Christmas. Thanks, mom!