Room for Improvement…

Room For Improvement...

Here are some decent roots on our young aquaponic kale at J.O. Wilson Elementary School, but roots ain’t gonna pay no bills! (unless they are root vegetables.)

Unfortunately we got this system, “The Cardinal”, started late in the year. We only added about 10 goldfish to start and we weren’t able to pump out any significant veggie volume. (But we did conduct numerous science lessons with students.)

We shut The Cardinal down for the Winter to protect it from the weather. (The goldfish are staying warm with Cultivate the City in a mini aquaponic system growing strawberries in a rooftop greenhouse.)

2017 will be about maximizing the production of high-quality crops, quantifying our production, and standardizing operating procedures.

Quantifying and Monetizing the Benefits of Aquaponics

Quantifying and Monetizing the Benefits of Aquaponics

You see, in our economic system we don’t account for the hidden costs of food production. Aquaponic producers have difficulty monetizing their benefits because industrial agriculture producers have an implicit subsidy to use as much water, carbon, pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics they want! Even a conservative economist should support public actions to force producers to internalize these costs of production so that others don’t have to pay later.

Click the link below to check out a PDF presentation by Anacostia Aquaponics Director Brian Filipowich on this topic. It was given at the Aquaponics Association conference in Austin, TX this past November.

Quantifying and Monetizing the Benefits of Aquaponics

Know Your Fish Weight

Fish Weight

In an aquaponic system your plants are ultimately eating fish food, the fish are just the middle man. Therefore, its helpful to know how much your fish weigh to calculate how much they are eating and how much plant growth they can support.

The key ratio of an aquaponics system is fish food to plant grow space. Leafy green plants will require between about 20 and 50 grams of fish food per day per square meter of grow space (assuming a fully utilized space). Fruiting plants like tomatoes and cucumbers will require a higher ratio between 50–80 grams per meter squared per day. (Somerville, et al 2014)

Once you figure out how much fish food your plants require, you work backwards to figure out how much fish you need. And this is based on a standard fish diet of about 2% of their body weight per day.

If you are adding too much fish food then your water quality can decrease as surplus nutrients build in the system and there’s not enough plants to filter the water. Conversely, not enough fish food and your plants won’t have enough nutrition. So know your fish weight!

The Knight, Until Spring 2017….


We started this system, “The Knight”, a bit too late in the year. It took a while for the bacterial colony to establish and there wasn’t enough time to achieve robust growth before the winter months. But we’ll be ready for the Spring!

Starting in Spring 2017, all Anacostia Aquaponics systems will have a specific goal for the year for fish weight and plant production based on each system’s characteristics. We will do our best to maximize production and quantify how much each system can produce.

Factors that will affect each systems’ goals include: system size and type; source water pH; access to light; owner preferences; and other environmental considerations.

(This system is named “The Knight” because it’s in a backyard across from Ballou High School in Anacostia, Washington DC. Their mascot is The Knights.)

The Washington Post Boosts Tilapia!

The Washington Post recently ran an article of interest to the aquaponic community: Tilapia Has a Terrible Reputation. Does it Deserve It? (Tamar Haspel. Washington Post. October 24, 2016.)

The Post found that tilapia has an unfair bad rap, and this should make us aquaponic folk angry! Because its costing us!

The article states: “Tilapia, in short, is an environmentally friendly, lean, low-calorie source of protein. We need all of those we can get.” And they did a taste test among some top Washington, DC food gurus; tilapia ranked 2nd of 6 among similar types of fish.

The commercial performance of tilapia is important to the success of the aquaponic industry. Tilapia is the most commonly used aquaponic fish because of its ability to withstand wide variances of ph, temperature, and water quality. And cuz its a quick efficient grower. In a 2015 survey, Commercial Aquaponics Production and Profitability, Findings from an International Survey (Love et al, 2015), researchers found that 69% of respondents used tilapia.

While tilapia is not as healthy or delicious as salmon, it is a lean source of healthy protein. Aquaponics offers us a way to grow this lean healthy protein locally, even in urban areas. This could have dramatically positive repercussions for our health, environment, and economy. But, perversely, these fish are more of an economic liability than an asset for most aquaponic operations, as found in a 2015 paper: Economics of Aquaponics (Engle, 2015).

Right now, tilapia is undervalued because of consumers’ misconceptions (which stem from poor-quality chinese tilapia imports). We need to show consumers that tilapia – when raised appropriately – is healthy and tasty. Then the price of tilapia will rise like the water in your media bed!

For some aquaponic operations, an increase in the price of tilapia will have a significant effect on their bottom line.

(And this does not even go into the fact that we don’t adequately charge for the costs of our food system to our environment and health. Is it REALLY cheaper to buy a tilapia raised in unhealthy conditions shipped from thousands of miles away in China?????!?!?!? We need to start building the hidden costs of our food system into our food prices. These costs include extreme water usage, carbon usage, pesticide usage, antibiotic usage, fertilizer usage, and nutrient runoff. Then the price of long-distance industrially-produced food would go up and we would be incentivized to buy local food… which would also benefit our economy!)

And see another good industry survey: An International Survey of Aquaponics Practitioners (Love et al, 2014)



Anacostia Aquaponics Partnership Program

Anacostia Aquaponics is in its “Partnership Program” phase. This means that we looking for partners who want to grow with aquaponics. We will design, construct, and help you produce with an aquaponics system for the cost of materials alone. This will be a two-way street, we will learn from eachother to improve the practice of aquaponics and expand aquaponics food production in DC.

Here is our brochure: Anacostia Aquaponics Partnership Program

Why are we doing this? 
Aquaponics is a highly efficient method of growing plants and fish in a symbiotic, recirculating, soil-less environment. It can grow significant quantities of food even in urban areas like Washington, DC. And aquaponics uses LESS THAN 10% of the water compared to traditional soil farming. If we are to meet the dietary needs of our rapidly growing urban population without ruining the environment, our economy, and our health, we will NEED to grow with efficient and local methods like aquaponics.

But aquaponics is hard work. It involves constructing and plumbing a water-tight recirculating system that requires an electric pump and aeration; and it involves balancing plants, fish, and water quality to achieve appropriate growth.

Despite these challenges, there are over a thousand aquaponics systems of many different types and sizes that are flourishing across the country, including many large scale commercial systems. (See examples in our brochure). And the University of the District of Columbia has several large systems in operation as well.

We need your help to work with us to improve the practice of aquaponics so that we can employ it to a level that our city begins to reap the environmental, economic, and health benefits of a better food system.

If you are interested in partnering with us to advance aquaponics in the DC metro area, please email We will send along more information and can set up a time to visit your site for a consultation.

Here is our brochure: Anacostia Aquaponics Partnership Program

Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition

Click here for more info and the signup form for the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition:

The National Organic Standards Board is considering revoking aquaponic and hydroponic organic eligibility.

We feel strongly that AP/HP – if practiced accordingly – embody the spirit of organic that consumers expect when they see the organic label: 1) AP/HP are highly sustainable and employ nutrient recycling; 2) AP/HP do not need synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or antibiotics; and 3) A large body of research shows that the roots of hydroponic plants contain the same quantity and diversity of root bacteria as soil plants, which is central to organic’s “soil-plant ecology”. And, finally, if we’re going to make necessary changes to our food system we have to retain incentives for new sustainable growing methods, rather than taking away incentives — banning AP/HP would be a step in the wrong direction.