In February 2017, the Aquaponics Association, an industry organization with the mission to promote the benefits of aquaponics through education and outreach, reached out to its members to assist with development of a fact sheet and white paper, regarding microbiological activity commonly associated with aquaponics (referred to as "bioponic" by the Association) systems. CHCA Upper School science teachers Dr. Kevin Savage and Mr. Gary Delanoy agreed to assist with this task, along with select students.
Over the next several weeks, CHCA students Sydni Schramm ('18) and Josh Pyle ('17) searched peer-reviewed research articles to summarize data and findings regarding microbial diversity in various modules of an aquaponics growing system (e.g., fish tank, biofilter, grow bed). Their analyses showed that aquaponics systems are rich in microbial diversity, with microbes being reported in every module of the studied systems. Their summaries also highlighted that microbes complete, or help to complete, processes that are vital to success of sustainable agriculture methods involving aquaponics/bioponics.
Their research was forwarded to Brian Filipowich, the Director of Public Policy for the Aquaponics Association, where it was combined with work completed by other collaborators, and ultimately presented as the final fact sheet and white paper entitled "Aquaponic Systems Utilize the Soil Food Web to Grow Healthy Crops". The white paper and fact sheet were published at the end of March 2017 on the Association's web page, and were used several times over the following months in the debate between aquaponics growers and soil growers over organic certification for aquaponics growers. Filipowich stated, "The Aquaponics Association's Soil Food Web white paper was used to influence the National Organic Standard's Board's decision as to whether aquaponics could remain eligible for organic certification. The Association submitted this paper as part of our official comments for both the Spring and Fall 2017 NOSB Meetings. We also distributed this report publicly through blog posts and emails to garner support."
The debate culminated in presentations made to the National Organic Standards Board, a Federal Advisory Board made up of 15 dedicated public volunteers from across the organic community under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The NOSB considers and makes recommendations on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products.
As reported on the Association's web site:
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted 8 to 7 last week [October 31, 2017] to reject proposals that would have banned aquaponics and hydroponics from organic eligibility. The Board did vote to ban aeroponics.
The Aquaponics Association applauds the NOSB's decision. Aquaponics embodies exactly what consumers expect in their organic produce:
1. No synthetic pesticides or chemicals;
2. Resource-efficient and planet-friendly; and
3. A thriving, diverse microbial root ecosystem.
The NOSB's decision will usher in a host of benefits to our food system. Aquaponics gives us the ability to eat fresh, local produce even in dense urban areas and arid climates. The organic label will allow commercial aquaponic growers to supply retailers the most local organic food possible.
Aquaponics employs closed-loop, recirculating systems of fish and plants. These systems use over 90% less water than soil farming; do not emit harmful agriculture discharge; and use the minimum resources necessary to grow vibrant, healthy crops.
For consumers, the NOSB's decision will lead to more accessible, affordable produce as more aquaponic growers enter the organic market. Aquaponics will also foster local economic growth with year-round food production jobs that can never be outsourced.
In short, the NOSB's decision is a big WIN for our environment, our health, and our economy.
Now in its seventh year at CHCA, the aquaponics program is actively seeking opportunities to support our industry mentors and partners, and to establish ourselves as a strong educational partner with the Aquaponics Association and its members. The outstanding work by Sydni and Josh was recognized by the Association and will likely be a door-opener for additional opportunities for future CHCA students as the program continues to grow, and as we move into the new on-campus greenhouse facility on the Martha S. Lindner Upper School Campus.