At a certain point last year we couldn't help but notice a rise in the number of people contacting CNG, wondering if we would certify their aquaponics* operation. They'd always argue that we should. After all, they'd say, we don't use any chemicals because if we did, the fish would die! Following about the nineteenth such inquiry, we decided it was time to look into this increasingly popular method of food-production. Is aquaponics really sustainable? Does this kind of agriculture fit into the values and commitments of CNG?
(*What's aquaponics? See bottom of this post.)
BACKGROUND ON CNG AND AQUAPONICS
Enthusiasm for aquaponics is understandable. With aquaponics, a variety of crops can be produced without access to fertile soil, without requiring much water, and without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Fresh food can be produced intensively and year-round, using only a modest amount of space, nearly immune to the consequences of unpredictable weather, and relying entirely on renewable energy.
But launching such a program is not a decision to be taken lightly. A meaningful certification program would require a new set of standards specific to aquaponic production. And developing standards is about more than simply saying "no chemicals". CNG's certification programs must also take into account the materials used in production, energy use, and impacts on natural resources, among other things.
To help us determine whether aquaponics certification was a good fit for CNG, we conducted a three-month feasibility study in partnership with our Aquaponics Exploratory Committee, a group made up of six experts and practitioners from across the country with decades of experience between them. This committee met regularly to examine all aspects of aquaponics production, and help CNG determine the feasibility of developing a new certification program. In particular, we examined whether it would be possible to set standards that would both align with CNG's commitment to ecological food production, and also be accessible to a meaningful number of aquaponics producers.
CNG AQUAPONICS PROGRAM NOW IN DEVELOPMENT
Today we're pleased to announce that CNG will develop a new certification program for aquaponics operations. Our work with our committee of experts led us to conclude that a CNG aquaponics program was indeed feasible. However, we expect that only the produce, and not the fish, will be covered by the new program - at least initially.
SEEKING CANDIDATES TO SERVE ON AQUAPONICS ADVISORY COUNCIL
To support the development of robust standards for aquaponic certification, CNG is seeking candidates to serve on our Aquaponics Advisory Council.
The deadline to apply is May 12.
Learn more at www.naturallygrown.org/leadership.
WHAT ABOUT HYDROPONICS?
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the Exploratory Committee also worked with CNG staff to explore hydroponic certification. Early in the process it was determined that hydroponic operations are not a good fit for CNG certification because there are currently few sources of natural fertility well-suited to hydroponic operations. Commercial hydroponic operations typically rely on synthetic fertilizers.
WHAT IS AQUAPONICS?
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising fish or other aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a symbiotic closed-loop system. The waste produced by aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants. In turn, the plants purify the water before it is returned to the fish.
WHAT IS CERTIFIED NATURALLY GROWN?
CNG offers peer-review certification to farmers and beekeepers who use natural practices free of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified crops. CNG was founded by farmers in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York in 2002. Today there are more than 700 CNG certified producers in 47 states nationwide. Find Certified Naturally Grown farmers and beekeepers near you at www.naturallygrown.org.