Global climate change and population growth has become the droning broken record of our age. It's a well know prediction that we'll reach almost 10 billion people by 2050, most of which will be living in cities and we have to quickly figure out how to keep everyone fed. The first steps, I believe, are ones of reform. Better legal avenues for food production infrastructure, more agricultural education, and a greater social emphasis on sustainability would help tremendously to kick start the slow migration of food from massive and secluded monoculture farms to the urban centers.
Furthermore, the key to overcoming the high prices of urban real estate would be through the integration of food production within the everyday facets of city life. One of the greatest assets in aquaponics is that the process can be extensively customized. Nutrient rich effluent from fish can be pumped great distances, limited only by the power of the pump so massive circulatory networks can be made to connect high producing grow beds with several fish tanks. This, of course, is a fantastic vision of the many possibilities that aquaponic opens up. Regardless of the method used to produce food one aspect remains the same: to achieve something we do not have, we must do something we haven't done. One of the unfortunate consequences of modern farming is that it removed the product from the consumer. For the most part a consumer is not involved with the production of his or her food, there's no second thought as to how it was grown, transported, sold or even marketed as the world of agriculture as secluded and misunderstood as it is wasteful.
To further prove this point let me describe the gauntlet a head of lettuce has to endure to sit on the shelf of your local grocery store. First, seed suppliers provide proprietary phenotypes of lettuce to the grower/farmer who then grows it out as fast as possible because their life depends on it. If the lettuce is going to be chopped for a salad it must be first sold to a processor as the farmer cannot legally cut it, otherwise it's sold to a distributor. Distributors require the lettuce to meet produce weight and attractiveness standards that cause approximately half of what is grown to the landfills, but if the lettuce is deemed worthy by the distributor it is then packed and shipped once more to retailers who can then sell the lettuce to you. Just as in the natural food chain, there is a loss of resources every time the lettuce exchanges handlers. Petroleum is used to harvest, transport, and refrigerate, the price tag keeps going up to accommodate the profit margins of the middle man, and a compromise in produce quality and nutrition is made in favor of greater shelf life and transportability.
This is all to say that we don't just need a new method of food production, we need a new system. Food can no longer remain an afterthought for the public to take for granted. I believe that reintroducing food production into the spotlight of modern life would have great results as it would instill a sense of respect to food. We cannot afford to continue dumping our food in landfills or sustain massive global food transport.
Looking at the trend of trends, I think it is only now in this recent decade that environmentalism and sustainability have been brought to the forefront of design, both architecturally and for consumer products. Without getting obnoxiously into how I think corporate-funded media tries so hard to convince us that the consumer can solve massive industrial pollution, I do believe that efforts can be made on the home-front that could provide unprecedented levels of healthful food production and incite massive change in the agricultural and logistical behemoth that is the food industry.
What I'm talking about is what I call integrated aquaponics, which is to say aquaponics that is incorporated into structures to foster a natural circular path of energy. Let me paint a picture of an example I have had in my head, but be warned, I find that thinking in terms of numbers give you a more concrete thought so bear with me through the math.
A small insulated room of 7' x 6' located anywhere convenient on floor level (unless you're willing to spend a hefty sum to support at least 5 tons of water weight) can be made to comfortably hold 1000 gallons in a specialized tank about 6 feet in height. With proper aquaculture practices you can hold about 150 tilapia or other types of edible fish, feeding them high quality feed at a dollar per half pound (this translate about 0.60 USD per day for the food of 1000 fish). With this amount of fish it is possible to have around about 150 cubic feet of grow bed. It has been documented (https://portablefarms.com/2019/feed-5-portable-farm/) that it is possible to feed a family of five with 125 cubic feet of growbed. Through thoughtful design this should not be prohibitively expensive due to the fact that an aquaponic system is fairly simple in concept: Water flows from the fish tank to a filter, then to the growbeds. A sump pump that can fill all 1000 gallons of growbed 4 times to 8 times an hour will cost $200 dollars at most and all electricity used by the pump and filtration system can more than compensated for with a 1 kwh solar or wind system. Solar is expensive but assuming that 15 watts can be generated per cubic foot for panels with efficiency ratings of around ~16%, you would only need about 70 cubic feet of solar panels for 140 cubic feet of growbed. While this can be expensive at around 1,000 to 1,500 USD the return of investment happens pretty quickly if you consider the fact that a family of 5 may be spending around 700 USD on groceries every month (https://growingslower.com/how-much-should-you-budget-for-groceries/). It must be said that these numbers and prices I use are in no way in stone. I simply think it helps to form a mental "sketch" that gives me a perspective to see the plausibility and practicality (or lack thereof) of my thoughts.
The bottom line is that aquaponics can definitely be incorporated into the house of the future with solar tubes bringing powerful sunlight onto aesthetic aquaponic growbeds or living walls full of fresh produce ready to eat. The first steps will be difficult, and probably not cost efficient until two or three years of tinkering and getting the system well cycled, inoculated and producing optimally but the goal is revolutionary. This design aims to decentralize where food comes from to lessen the load on massive mono-culture farms on dwindling arable land. Image a neighborhood of these houses. Each house would be a biosphere providing an incredible diversity of food that could be shared and traded with neighbors or sold at a local food market. Additionally, all the solid waste caught in a house's aquaponic filtration system could be easily sent to an outside re-mineralization tank to become wonderful fertilizer for an outside garden.
In addition to a possible 20-30 lbs of fresh fish a month, the system will inherently require good airflow and comfortable humidity in the home. This has the added effect of focusing the design process to the overall comfort and freshness of the environment within a living space. The indoors would have to be bright and sunny during the day and glowing in the moonlight by night removing elements of home that separate us from nature and the cycle of the sun. With a passionate designer, patient and hardworking builders, and skillful architects the possibilities are truly endless.
Cheers and Good Growing,