Monday, October 05, 2009

A New Economy for Urban Michigan: Aquaculture by Akindele Akinyemi


While urban planners here in Detroit are trying to "rightsize" the city by implementing urban agriculture one thing we have not discussed fully is urban aquaculture. The City of Detroit, Benton Harbor and Muskegon are ripe for urban aquaculture to help generate revenue into these cities.

Aquaculture is fish farming. This is where people can cultivate fish for food in a controlled environment, such as a tank or pond, and harvesting them when they reach preferred size. Some may be interested in raising an easy-to-breed species that is fairly inexpensive to feed and relatively free of parasites and diseases. In a time of over-fishing and degradation of wetland habitats, aquaculture presents itself as an environmentally and socially sound alternative. Urban conservatives can help develop programs that will provide fresh, high-quality fish at a fair price to local ethnic markets, along with potential jobs for vendors.

This industry can be built due to the high consumption of seafood by blacks. Blacks consume 3-4 times more seafood than other races of people in the United States as well as spend nine dollars for every one dollar that whites spend on seafood. A seafood factory will meet that growing need. However, what are we doing to produce an industry that will help generate revenue as well as investment opportunities for areas such as Detroit, Benton Harbor or Muskegon?

Fish farming sounds a lot easier than it is. It involves close monitoring of the water chemistry and fish health, along with the daily work of feeding the fish, transporting them, and finding a viable market. Besides the challenge of physical labor, aquaculture systems are also expensive. The controlled environment required to grow fish in tanks includes an aerated water circulating system, carbon filters to clean water, fish feed, transporting tanks, and equipment for monitoring the water's chemical composition.

Examples of this can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Growing Power. This is a two-acre urban farm that was founded by Will Allen in 1993. Growing Power inspires school kids and entrepreneurs alike with the fresh produce, meat, and fish it grows in the heart of the city. Growing Power now has satellite farms and community gardens around Milwaukee and Chicago.

Others are following Allen’s lead, growing fish and plants in a three-tiered aquaponic system. In aquaponics, fish and plants are grown in one integrated structure. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, and plants and bacteria clean the water for the fish. Aquaponic systems mimic the natural water purification that takes place in streams and wetlands.

Milwaukee is emerging as a leader in the urban farming revolution, especially in aquaculture. Local organizations are recruiting more urban agrarians through education. Growing Power has regular workshops, and a nonprofit Urban Aquaculture Center that includes an education center as well as a production facility that is in development.

Aquaculture has been increasing around the country, and urban fish farms like Sweet Water are on the cutting edge. Purdue University’s Kwamena Quagrainie, who specializes in aquaculture marketing, does not know of any other commercial urban fish farms.

Detroit, Benton Harbor and Muskegon can benefit from urban aquaculture. Urban fish farms may help fill these gaps, with Detroit and other cities reaping economic, health, and environmental benefits. Urban agriculture and aquaculture provide jobs near a ready workforce, fresh foods for underserved populations, reductions in fossil fuels for food transport, and an use for empty industrial buildings.

If urban conservatives can lead the way to help other succeed it will provide a valuable business model for entrepreneurs in Detroit and other urban cities in Michigan. It will also strengthen the current of change that is reshaping how we grow our food.

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