Local sustainable alternative ag initiative is underway

McALISTERVILLE – Tucked partially underground in Juniata County is a small research project investigating the productivity of aquaponics. Aquaponics is a term describing the marriage of aquaculture-culturing fish-with hydroponics-producing plants without soil. An abandoned concrete block trench silo was chosen as the location, to enable the use of geothermal moderation in both warm and cold weather. Deep ground temperatures in Central PA remain in the low 50s all year round, allowing the soil to be used as a heat source in the winter, and a cooling source in the summer. Two small polyethylene-covered greenhouses provide shelter for the fish and plants independently, allowing for differential control of the environment of each. The current research phase focuses on cold-water fish, rainbow trout, and cool-weather plants, lettuce and kitchen herbs, such as cilantro and parsley.

There is much research supporting the design of various types of aquaponics systems. However, there is very little data involving trout production in conjunction with salad greens utilizing a subterranean greenhouse style. Walipini, a type of earth-sheltered greenhouse popular in cold mountain environments in South America, are similar to the greenhouse being employed in this project. The current initiative, Trout Salad Aquaponics, will track inputs and outputs of this system to determine if it is a viable sustainable alternative agriculture initiative. There is the potential for the system to become completely organic, with the use of organic trout feed, as no pesticides or antibiotics are used in the recirculating system.

Construction began in January and the system has been recently completed. You can learn more, track the progress of research, or find out how to get involved by visiting Trout Salad Aquaponics’ Facebook page at facebook.com/troutsalad.