Is Your Food Secure?

Aquaponics – a new way to produce healthy and sustainable food.
Put some fish in a tank, feed them and get nutrients to grow healthy vegetable for the whole family in your basement! And you can even eat the fish!

Næmingar: Luis Pellecer, Jón Kragesteen
Útbúgving: West Nordic Studies, Governance and Sustainable Management

One of the greatest threats of the future, due to the uncertainties brought forth by climate change, will be food security.  The Faroe Islands has access to a vast amount of ocean resources such as wild fish, and food from newer endeavors like aquaculture and seaweed farming.  Considering the dangers facing the ocean such as increasing acidification, overfishing, and others, it would be prudent to prepare other, sustainable food sources.  We decided to experiment with Aquaponics as a possible means for sustainably sourced food in the future.

In short aquaponics is a “marriage” of aquaculture (raising fish/fish farming) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one closed-loop system.

The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. This creates a sustainable system which produces both organic vegetables and fish.

Furthermore, owners of such a system could also save considerable amounts of money.  When compared to the price of imported, organic goods, a household could make back the investment of constructing such a system within a short amount of time, leading to years of future savings.

We were fortunate enough to secure a species of trout which was introduced to the Faroe Islands in the 1960s.  The family company Røkt has kept the fishes alive in a river basin in Vestmanna. We were given 100 younglings, weighing approximately 15 grams each.  Once placed in the tanks at the house, we could begin feeding, and pumping the water to our grow beds.  We selected a variety of vegetables and herbs currently not grown in the Faroes.  This includes: lemongrass, cauliflower, celery, parsley, sweet pepper, pak choy, and others.

Our project has experienced many setbacks.  Two different pumps have failed, which stops the ongoing oxygenation of the water- a necessary process for the fish to breathe.  Each pump failure has resulted in several fish dying.  The weight of the gravel we chose as a medium has also posed structural challenges to the weight-bearing capacity of our containers, so on more than one occasion, we have needed to reinforce them with wooden planks.  Perhaps future aquaponics projects could first spend some time making Faroese sourced clay pellets as a medium instead of the heavier gravel we utilized.  Furthermore, we hypothesize that our light source is not sufficient.  We currently utilize the natural daylight from the basement window as the only light source for the plants.  With so many plants, and with so few hours of sunlight during this time of year (winter), perhaps we should have invested in proper UV light bulbs and multiple fixtures to provide ample light.

Aquaponics is very effective. For every kilo of fish produced 30 to 50 kilo of vegetable can be grown. Therefore only 3.2 square meter is enough to feed one person with vegetables for a whole year. To feed the whole population of Faroe Islands a square area 400×400 would be sufficient, see picture of how much such a space would fill in a green area in Tórshavn.

“Though even the first Faroese settlements were built using materials from abroad. From imported wood, tools, and even animals, the locals have a long established tradition of trade and some degree of dependency on the outside. There was a long period, however, of self-sufficiency on the islands. Up until the 1960’s, people would commonly grow their own potatoes along with some variety of beets and herbs such as hvonn. Grass was carefully maintained to feed the family cow, which was housed in the basement during harsh weather- another commonplace method to ensure a supply of milk. The Faroese would also hunt birds, fish, whales, while maintaining the most resourceful animal in the land- sheep, which provide wool and meat.”

“The fact is that the Faroe Islands produces as much food as around 8 ton of fish per person a year or about 8 times more than a human being possibly can eat in a year. But the problem is that almost all this food is exported and a huge part all food that is eaten in the Faroe Islands is imported. We even import fish that we originally have exported.  Prior to the prominent commercialized culture of today, nearly all sustenance came from ocean life, or domesticated animals.

But once commercial fishing became popular amongst Faroese men, a new consumerist culture began to grow alongside to accommodate the newfound disposable income.  Fast forward to modern times, and we find entirely new norms amongst the islanders.  Today, most of the food in the Faroe Islands is imported.  The society has become dependent on regional and global food supply systems to meet their consumption demands.  But what of the new climate change reality in which carbon miles, geopolitics, and the very ability of ecosystems to continue to provide food is under threat?  These new and urgent considerations demand preparation in the event of a collapse, especially as a small, nation of islands so reliant on foreign resources.

Aquaponics works.  It is happening in many places all over the world.  With the right expertise, an aquaponics system could mean sustainable food production for produce unable to grow locally.  We think this to be an important tool to fill in the gaps in local food production, leading to greater food security and resilience.