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Aquaponic greenhouse society is on a mission

Fort Macleod Community Aquaponic Greenhouse Society community facilitator Michael lavorato gave a presentation at the Fort Macleod Homestead Market.

The Fort Macleod Community Aquaponic Greenhouse Society has a mission to help people reduce their carbon footprint, become more self-sufficient and conserve water.
The way to do that is through aquaponic greenhouse growing.
“The mission for our society over the next year is outreach,” society board member Linda Gonnet said. “The intention is to reach as many people as we possibly can throughout our area, talking about and promoting aquaponic greenhouse growing.”
The society has made presentations to more than 800 children in Livingstone Range School Division over the past year.
By the end of June the society will have 10 stand-alone aquaponic greenhouse systems in seven schools in Livingstone Range.
“We’re really excited about that,” Gonnet said. “Those kids will have opportunities to grow food that can be used for their nutrition programs, they’ll be able to recognize some of their academic requirements and curricular goals through a kind of stand-alone lab that they have right in the school.”
The society also plans to hold community workshops where people can learn more about aquaponic greenhouse systems.
The society promotes aquaponic greenhouse growing for three key reasons.
“The first one is living in the 21st century where our carbon footprint needs to be reduced,” Gonnet said. “By growing our food a little closer to home, by growing it locally, we’re able to reduce our carbon footprints.”
The second and perhaps most important reason, Gonnet said, is water conservation.
“By growing aquaponically, you’re using 90 per cent less water than if you were growing the same amount in a conventional method,” Gonnet said.
Gonnet said the third key reason is to help people become more self-sufficient.
“You can grow a little bit of food here at home, it reduces the grocery bill and keeps it a little bit closer to home as well.”
Michael Lavorato, who is the community facilitator for the Fort Macleod Community Aquaponic Greenhouse Society, gave a presentation at the Homestead Market last month at the Fort Macleod Midnight Stadium Agriplex.
Lavorato’s presentation covered the history of agriculture in Alberta and the growing demands put on the land and available water.
As the population grows and there is more development, more stress is put on the watershed.
Aquaponics — the growing of fish and plants together — is promoted as the farming method of the future.
Lavorato explained it is a closed loop ecosystem in which waste from the fish is pumped into a grow-bed filter where bacteria turns the waste into a nitrate the plants can use to grow and produce fresh water back to the fish.
The plants grow in sandy soil, some kind of substrate or even on a floating raft.
“It’s a closed loop cycle that’s clean,” Lavorato said. “We don’t have to use synthetic fertilizers, we don’t have to use chemicals to make this system work. It just uses the natural processes that you see in the world.”
Aquaponic growing has been used since as early as 1,000 A.D.
“If we can produce food closer to home not only can we be more sustainable but we can keep money here,” Lavorato said of reducing food transportation costs.
Crops typically grown successfully using an aquaponic system include leafy lettuce, bok choi, peppers, beans, peas, squash and broccoli.
The fish used in systems are typically goldfish, koi, tilapia, barramundi and paco.

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