Headline: Aquaponic farming operations taking root May 25, 2011|By Christopher Weber, Special to the Tribune
Not so fast. That was last May and aquaponics farming doesn't seem to be any closer to becoming reality. There are a number of Chicagoans including the Plant, 312, Greens and Gills and a couple right here in Bronzeville, along with Milwaukee's Growing Power chomping at the bit to bring commercial fish farming into town.
Back in 2010, then 6th Ward Ald. Freddrenna Lyle was leading the charge to bring aquaponics to Chicago. At the time Ms. Lyle said folks looked at her like she had two heads when she mentioned commercial fish raising in Chicago. There are also a significant amount of deer in the headlights expressions when I mention aquaponics today. So here’s a short primer on the subject and a great link to a TEDx info on the subject (Aquaponics with Charlie Price).
Aquaponics is not a new process. The ancient Aztecs built ‘chinampas’ (networks of canals and stationary artificial islands) in which they cultivated crops on the islands using nutrient-rich mud (from fish poop) and water from the canals. It was probably practiced in ancient Egypt and most certainly was no secret to the Chinese. They were proficient at growing fish, ducks and produce in symbiosis.
The new proponents of commercial fish production in Chicago are not proposing we build canals in Lake Michigan. Nope. The technology involved in modern day fish farming makes it possible to grow fish and produce and the entire process can be tied to computers and be put in any old warehouse or factory. More importantly the advances made since the Aztecs, Egyptians and Chinese can make a tremendous impact on Chicago economics. This sounds like possible employment at multiple skill levels.
There is still the slight problem that faced Ms. Lyle and others. According to city ordinances, fish are livestock, verboten.
It is interesting to note that in the city famous for stockyards we can’t seem to find a way to authorize fish production. The Union Stock Yard & Transit Co., or The Yards, was the meat packing district in Chicago for over a century starting in 1865. I, unfortunately, remember the smell wafting into Bronzeville from the stockyards up until 1971. I can’t say I miss being in the city with the title of “hog butcher” to the world. I can categorically state that I have no objection to being in a really sustainable, environmentally sound, economy producing city with green jobs in urban agriculture. Now that I can be proud of!
Here’s a little bedtime story for Chicago.
Once upon a time there was a brave and intelligent little donkey. He heard about the food desert (or not, See my blog Bronzeville is not a Food Desert) in Chicago. He heard about all the unemployment, especially in communities like Bronzeville. He wanted to help. Now did I mention that this little donkey was really smart and he had good friends who were also very smart. So he decided that the best way he could help was to teach the people in the big city of Chicago how to grow vegetables. He liked vegetables. His friend the pig told him that was a great idea but some people may need more than just vegetables. The little donkey thought and thought. “I’ve got it”, he said. "I can take some fish to live there too. They can live with the plants and they can grow healthy and strong together. " The rooster, sitting close by on the fence heard the little donkey and the pig talking. The rooster looked on them sadly and thought to himself, "poor donkey and pig I guess they didn’t see the sign." NO LIVESTOCK and that includes fish.