After a Canadian-owned fish farm near Seattle broke apart in August, eco-activists and First Nations leaders once again had to remind us that farmed fish can spread diseases to wild Pacific stocks and also weaken them through crossbreeding.

More than 160,000 farm-raised Atlantic salmon escaped, and lots of them decided they, too, didn't want to live any longer in the Excited States.

All the more reason to care about a food growing system called Aquaponics.

Having experimented for three years before starting Raincoast Aquaponics in 2012, Adrian Southern has co-written The Aquaponic Farmer: A Complete Guide to Building and Operating a Commercial Aquaponic System (New Society$39.99) to spread the word about an ancient method of raising fish (aquaculture) together with growing vegetables in nutrient-rich water (hydroponics).

"The Aztecs had advanced techniques of aquaponic farming called Chinampas," he says, "that involved creating islands and canals to raise both fish and plants. This system of sediments never required manual watering, achieving up to seven harvests per year for certain plants."

Now Southern is growing vegetables and raising rainbow trout in a 36-foot x 80-foot greenhouse in the Cowichan Valley with his company co-owned by his co-author Whelm King. Annually they're producing approximately 30,000 heads of vibrant, delicious lettuce and 750 kg of tender pink trout, using a closed loop system that is waste-free.

"All the fish wastes are either used by the plants or processed into liquid fertilizer for sale," he says. "And all the crop compost is fed to pigs and recycled into garden beds for producing other crops that can't be grown hydroponically.

"We raise pigs almost entirely on compost and produce fish fertilizer that we bottle and sell to local farmers and gardeners."

Southern, who now makes his living selling his products at the year-round Duncan Farmers Market, as well as to Duncan's strictly vegetarian Garage Cafe and occasionally through the Cow-op, got his start in traditional farming in Nanaimo, selling at local farmers markets. The work was physically demanding and not very profitable.

"I calculated I was earning about $2 per hour,": he says.

Then in 2009, Southern toured the Fisheries and Aquaculture program at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. The school had recently set up a small aquaponics system as a demonstration for the concept.

With aquaponics, he realized he could raise both plants and fish sustainably, all year round, with water use cut by 90% or more, without arable land, without weeds.

"It was a moment of epiphany that would change my life,": he says. "I was immediately hooked. I knew my days as an urban soil farmer were over." 978-0-896571-858-6

Review by Beverly Cramp

BOOKS

The Aquaponic Farmer: A Complete Guide to Building and Operating a Commercial Aquaponic System (New Society 2017) Co-authored with Whelm King $39.99 978-0-896571-858-6

[BCBW 2017]