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Chicago's Appetite for Aquaponics

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MarkBoyer

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The February issue of Mindful Metropolis, a Chicago magazine about green living, is on newsstands, and it features an article I wrote about several organic aquaponics farms that are planned for the city.

Here's a excerpt:

In aquaponics, the plants are fertilized with nutrients and bacteria from fish water, and the plant roots filter the water so that it can be circulated back into the fish tanks, creating a symbiotic loop between fish and plants. Growing Power actually has several urban farms in Chicago that are managed by Allen's daughter Erika, but none of them incorporate aquaponics technology. In fact, no commercial aquaponics operations exist in Chicago, because Chicago law doesn't currently allow it, but several key players would like to see that change. 

"There's nothing on the books in terms of the zoning as far as fish are concerned, but because they're living beings they're considered livestock," says 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller. "Well, obviously we have to separate that." 

Shiller hopes to convert the former Salvation Army building at the corner of Broadway and Sunnyside Avenue in Uptown into a multi-use building that would house aquaponics fish tanks and grow beds, an educational center, a community kitchen, and an on-site market. But she needs to address zoning issues in order for that to become a reality. 

Allen caught a break with the Growing Power property, because it was already zoned for agricultural use when he bought it. "He's the last farmer in Milwaukee," Shiller says. "You could probably not do what he's doing anywhere else in a city without having the same problems that we're having." Shiller recently raised the aquaponics issue with the Chicago Departments of Zoning and Community Development, and she hopes to see the livestock designation change within the next year. "More and more of our colleagues are saying, 'We really want to do that, so as soon as you figure it out we're going to do it,'" she says.

Read the whole story at Mindful Metropolis, where they've got a digital version of the whole magazine.

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