Aquaponics: Saving Haiti one aquapon at a time.

Just to be clear, there’s no such thing as an aquapon. (But there should be.)

I read an article about some college students in Wisconsin designing an aquaponics system for an orphanage in Haiti, to help with relief and rebuilding efforts after the big earthquake about a year ago. I’ve heard of hydroponics, and wondered if they were related.

Turns out they are, in a way. Aqua is the Latin root for ‘water,’ and hydro is the Greek root of the same meaning. Ponos is a Greek suffix, meaning ‘labor.’ So both, obviously, have to do with water and work. But hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in a mineral/nutrient-supplemented water solution, and aquaponics is something else: “a system of agriculture involving the simultaneous cultivation of plants and aquatic animals such as fish in a symbiotic environment,” as Wikipedia puts it.

Anyways. What these students—from the Milwaukee School of Engineering—are doing, is solving (or at least working around) multiple problems with an aquaponic system. Those problems are:

  • This orphanage needs more money (like much of Haiti)
  • Everybody needs more food
  • The power grid is unreliable; it’s down about half the time
  • Kids leaving the orphanage don’t really have any work experience of any kind

The system they’ve designed will provide a business opportunity one (even a small business can make money), and gives the children there experience with work since they will have tended it. It is a farm for fish and vegetables, so therein lies the solution to the food problem. Finally, what little electricity is needed can be supplied by batteries (which can be recharged whenever the power grid is up).

Check out their website: Project Grow.

Because of the low socioeconomic level in that area of Haiti, it is designed to be built simply: the tank will be made out of cinder blocks and pond liner (as of their current design), and the rest of the farm will use similarly common and cheap materials. Check out the photo section of the Project Growth website for more.

This is just more proof that engineering isn’t about making cool robots, but about making the world better by finding a problem and systematically conquering it. (Cool robots make the world cooler, which is kind of like making it better. Right?)

Read the article I read about this: from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online.

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One thought on “Aquaponics: Saving Haiti one aquapon at a time.

  1. Hi Nick,

    This is Lars Kemmann from the Project Grow team.

    Thanks for the kind words! You’re right; while our school’s senior design curriculum has seen plenty of examples of (really) cool robots, our team agreed that we wanted to solve a real problem – to help people.

    Turns out the biggest challenge for us engineers has been the agricultural part; we can do all the flow rate calculations we want, and put together an amazingly robust power supply, but if we miss the fact that the most sensitive piece of aquaponics is maintaining the population of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, the fish are going to die off pretty quickly. And learning about the biological cycles involved was just the start; as a result, we’ve had to rely heavily on aquaponics experts like Sweet Water Organics (and hydroponics comes into play as well).

    If any of your readers are interested in finding out more, feel free to email me at: kemmannl (a) msoe dot edu.

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