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Fish Gardening: Sustainable Aquaculture to Promote Food Production, Food Safety, Water Conservation and Water Quality on Small Farms and Limited Resource Households

Alabama A&M University
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We propose to develop and evaluate two systems of sustainable aquaculture to determine feasibility and merits for use by small farmers and limited-resource families to supplement their diets with home-grown animal protein and fresh vegetables. These systems will operate at two spatial/social scales: household, and small farm/community. The overriding goals for the research component of this project are to develop and evaluate several aquaculture/gardening systems. Evaluation criteria include feasibility and ease of operation, benefit-cost analysis, environmental quality analysis, and risk analysis for food safety. The research will specifically address the design of sustainable aquaculture systems and investigate their impact on food production, food safety, water conservation, and water quality. These systems combine fish culture with vegetable gardening (often referred to as aquaponics) to produce abundant safe food while conserving water quantity and improving water quality (Rakocy et al. 1992). In addition to contributing to the priority areas of Sustainable Agriculture, Food Safety, and Water Quality, the proposed project also impacts priorities in Rural Community Development by expanding opportunities for small farms and community gardens. This project will enhance the overall quality of our research by integrating our extension to farmers, gardeners, and public school children into the implementation and evaluation of sustainable agricultural systems.

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All aquaculture systems that we propose to investigate will combine the production of bream fish and vegetables. Two different size systems will be tested to assess feasibility and merits of each system. The smallest scale aquaculture system is one that can be used in an urban setting. It requires a footprint of about 12 ft2 (1.1 m2) to 36 ft2 (2.8 m2) and contains about 165 gal (600L). The system integrates fish production, biofiltration, and plant production. The tanks for the fish and the biofilter can consist of food-grade plastic, acrylic, or glass containers. The plant production elements can consist of an additional container as above, or aquaponics trays, or aquaponics racks. A simple system, that has been used in the past with some success (Woods 2002), consists of three 55 gal (208 L) drums connected in a recirculating (closed) aquaculture system. The unique approach in the proposed research to improve the quality of food and animal sciences capability at Alabama A&M University is provided by the interdisciplinary synergy of the objectives and the integration of extension and education to deliver real-time results to potential users of biotechnological systems being evaluated. Investigating food production systems that employ combinations of aquaculture and food plants that utilize fish wastes that are safe to eat and do not pose risks on the environment is inherently interdisciplinary and innovative. The proposed investigation which combines fish production and vegetable garden will be conducted in selected prominent locations that allow maximum public education and exposure, namely, the AAMU agricultural research station, Legacy Elementary School and small, limited-resource farms and households. Community cooperators are necessary in the evaluation of the proposed research in order to facilitate technology transfer and generate information useful to potential producers. The proposed project will advance educational equity by strengthening the capacity of this historically black university to train minorities in aquatic and wildlife professions in which they are underrepresented. The first evaluation will concern the efficient functioning of the aquaculture systems that we seek to install and evaluate. The next evaluations will concern the environmental impacts (water resources) and pest management of the systems. The food productivity of the systems will be assessed in conjunction with the food safety evaluation. The research endeavor will be judged successful when the systems are operational and data collection on these various evaluations are analyzed and disseminated. Thus, there will be several steps in the evaluation process for the research. These evaluations will be performed as the components of the research investigation are installed or conducted, and at the end of the project.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Bacterial Pathogens
Chemical Contaminants
Education and Training
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication