Aquaponics turn suburban industrial park into farmland: Hume

The future has arrived; it’s unfolding now in Unit 7 at a nondescript industrial complex just north of Pearson Airport in Mississauga. That’s where a new aquaponic farming operation, Aqua Greens, is setting up business.

Proprietors Pablo Alvarez and Craig Petten expect that once everything’s in place, they will produce a constant supply of greens – arugula, basil, chives, lettuce – as well as a steady stream of tilapia. The idea is to provide markets, stores and restaurants with the sort of fresh, organic ingredients not normally available here in the dead of winter.

Alvarez and Petten are veteran waiters flexing their entrepreneurial muscles for the first time. They joined forces to bring an updated version of water farming to Toronto. The basic concept is to create a self-contained ecosystem in which fish provide the nutrients that sustain the plants, which in turn clean the water for the tilapia.

Simple in conception, less so in practice, the idea can be traced back to the earliest human civilizations in South America and the Middle East. Today, the technique has been technologized and moved indoors. Fish are kept in huge plastic vats, circular not square. The greens grow in Styrofoam pads that float in large trays stacked four high on two-storey steel structures. Each tray holds 1,400 plants.

For the moment, the fish are fry and the plants little more than seedlings. But once the system is up and running; the harvest will never end. Keep in mind, greens grow twice as fast in this mechanical universe than in nature, or what’s left of it.

In theory, at least, other than turning on the grow lights and feeding the fish, it is a self-sustaining loop.

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