Sky-High Aquaponics

Sustainability

Hydroponics vs Conventional

Throughout history, it has been shown that hydroponic production of crops is a viable option for growers. Latest research shows that although hydroponically produced lettuce may require more energy compared to lettuce grown conventionally, hydroponics provide 11 times greater yields using 13 times less water (Barbosa, et al.).  

Our towers utilize a recirculating nutrient solution which provides an efficient use of water. The water delivery mechanism also helps drives the motion of the tower, eliminating the need for a motor. A small d.c. electric braking generator is used to control the speed of the rotation. The towers use an ebb-and-flow type technique to grow plants providing essential aeration and water/nutrients to their roots.

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a farming technique that produces both plants and fish. The fish are fed a high nutrient food and their waste is then used to feed plants. This eliminates the need for conventional nutrients. The major players that can make or break an aquaponic system are bacteria. Fish waste contains nitrogen in a form that is unusable to plants. Different types of bacteria naturally accumulate in systems and aid in the transformation of ammonia to nitrites (both of which are unusable to plants), and nitrites to nitrates, which can be taken up by plant roots. The nutrients in the water are taken up by plants and the filtered water returns to the fish. Our custom designed fish tanks keep the incompatible solid waste that sinks away from the bio-filtered liquid waste that plants love and grow very well with limited roots if all else is constantly available in our controlled environment.

How long ago was my food harvested?

The time between harvest and consumption varies between five days to several weeks, if refrigeration is employed. A notable consequence of consuming produce that has traveled quite a distance is that the nutritional content of the produce degrades over time and with handling (Barrett). 

The tower operating in Benzona, MI uses the cut-and-come-again method of harvesting leafy greens. This means a plant is kept alive longer and periodically trimmed of leaves. This allows us to provide the unique service of harvesting upon order, with pick-up scheduled within hours to deliver the freshest greens possible. 

How far has my food been transported?

For more than two decades, there has been a rise in long-distance transportation of food. In the U.S. fruits and vegetables are transported between 2,500-4,000 km from the farm to the store or market (Halweil). While this offers consumers a wide diversity of ingredient options, it comes at a cost of fossil fuel consumption and environmental impacts.

The NRDC publication on Food Miles has found that eating locally can provide several benefits:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions (a major role in global warming)
  • support your local economy and your agricultural community
  • access to fresher, tastier, healthier food

To read about what you can do to help limit greenhouse gas emissions and eat healthily, see the article Food Miles.

Sky-High Aquaponic towers are designed to operate in various locations, inside or outdoors. This allows many people to become farmers for themselves and their neighbors. Being able to grow food where the consumers are located is the best way to provide food with the least amount of transportation time and expense. 

Why grow vertically? Why rotate?

Land is becoming more expensive especially closer to populations of eaters,  and distant farmland is disappearing. The introduction of indoor agriculture, or controlled environment agriculture, has allowed the most efficient control over all necessary resources for plant growth and development. Being able to utilize vertical space gives you the ability to increase production without having to use more floor space. 

The tower's rotation satisfies two needs, nutrient solution delivery and aeration for plant roots, and allows workers to keep their feet safely on the ground minimizing the need to bend and work in otherwise uncomfortable positions associated with tending to garden crops.

The tower system design allows effective sharing of resources that would otherwise substantially increase the amount of energy needed. If the growing area (which is 130 sf on this model) were spread out over floor space, it would require a much larger area to accommodate room for moving about and accessing plants for harvesting. Also, the amount of light fixtures needed would increase by 50%. Having one shared nutrient reservoir saves energy and need for many water and air pumps or sophisticated plumbing. If all grow beds were vertically stacked, they would need as many resources as if grown across the floor including scissor lifts or ladders. 

The model of tower in operation in Benzonia is 12' tall. It effectively increases the production of the space it takes up by THREE TIMES! We anticipate many more towers in the same location.

Barbosa, Guilherme, Francisca Gadelha, Natalya Kublik, Alan Proctor, Lucas Reichelm, Emily Weissinger, Gregory Wohlleb, and Rolf Halden. "Comparison of Land, Water, and Energy Requirements of Lettuce Grown Using Hydroponic vs. Conventional Agricultural Methods." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health IJERPH 12.6 (2015): 6879-891. Web.

Barrett, Diane M. "Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits and Vegetables." University of California, Davis, n.d. Web. 6 July 2016.

Halweil, Brian, and Tom Prugh. Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 2002. Print.


"NRDC: Food Miles: How Far Your Food Travels Has Serious ..." N.p., n.d. Web.