Hydroponics, aquaponics, and sovereignty

Hydroponic agriculture systems use water––not soil––to grow crops, and yet they use water with exceptional efficiency and can produce abundantly all year round. When coupled with fish farming, the result is a nearly closed-loop system––aquaponics––in which the plants filter the water for the fish, and the fish provide fertilizer for the plants.

Charlie Shultz is an Academic Director in the School of Trades, Technology, Sustainability and Professional Studies and Academic Director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Program, including hydroponics and aquaponics, at Santa Fe Community College. The programs, which include food production and renewable energy, teach students to bring sustainable food and energy systems into communities, with the vision of building food, energy, water, and cultural sovereignty, and long-term alternatives to our current toxic infrastructures.


3’01 Controlled Environment Agriculture at Santa Fe Community College
3’45 community asked for a food program
4’18  what is aquaponics
4’28 first LEED platinum building in New Mexico
4’47 the waste from fish are nutrients for plants
5’18 fish farming coupled with plant production
5’52 reframing “waste” as a resource
6’50 no need to buy fertilizer in aquaponics
7’35 economics of growing food with fish water
8’01 working with niche markets
8’30 all the different crops they’re growing in the winter
9’26 99.5% recycle rate of water in the aquaponic system, very water conservative use for food growing
10’22 learned to do this work in the Virgin Islands, where there are also water shortages similar to desert climates
11’10 greenhouse program at SFCC, hydroponics = growing plants without soil
12’35 not certified organic but they think of it as “beyond organic” i.e. sustainable
13’57 almost a closed-loop system, but they do buy fish food
15’46 they are looking at community sovereignty–land, water, food, culture
17’08 the evolution of the greenhouse
17’27 traning the workforce of the future
19’26 off-grid greenhouse
20’06 a lot of different energy inputs
21’06 cooling with evaporative coolers, which uses more water than watering the crops
22’21 using water catchment
23’36 dealing with bugs, mold
24’37 using ladybugs to eat pest insects
25’41 what students do with the knowledge they learn
25’56 stealth STEM for young people who want to save the world and the food system
27’10 once they get interested in food growing they start taking other science classes
27’47 entrepreneurship is encouraged
28’50 initiatives for underserved and remote communities
29’58 dual credits pipeline from high school to community college
30’29 cooperative extension service workshops across the state
31’15 food miles–distance that food travels
32’32 growing food during COVID
33’46 what they do with the large amount of food they grow
34’41 what the food tastes like
36’11 growing aromatic/tasty herbs
36’52 nutrient density
37’29 prejudice against hydroponics
38’57 both soil and hydroponic systems are teeming with microbes, many of the same microbes
39’52 alternative energy programs at SFCC, they’re leading the nation in sustainability
40’17 the food-energy-water nexus and distributed energy
42’55 hydroponics is easily copied; aquaponics not so much
43’36 cultivating fish is more complex and difficult than growing hydroponic crops
44’44 the contaminants in the natural environment
45’53 growing fish can be ecologically very efficient
46’52 wild fish can be very contaminated
48’00 labeling on seafood helps people to make good consumer choices
50’29 greenhouses as source for winter food
51’53 local, safe, and economic food production

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