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Monday, 26 January 2015

University of 3rd Age Aquaponics Lab - A Radical Solution

at Tod U3A

It is not only footballers who make their way to our shores from Brazil. One such, in the person of Paulo Marini, enlightened his audience at the January Todmorden U3A general meeting on the principles of aquaponics in a talk entitled, Open Farm Technologies - Aquaponics. Paulo works for Aquaponics Lab, based in Todmorden and closely associated with Incredible Edible Todmorden. Simply put, Paulo explained, aquaponics means the farming of fish, aquaculture, together with growing plants in water rather than soil hydroponics. .

The brilliant thing about aquaponics, according to Paulo, is that the poop from the fish provides a great source of fertiliser for the plants. Natural bacteria around the plants roots convert the toxic fish waste into food for the plants, who love it, growing faster and giving more at harvest than normal. And as a bonus, because the plants and bacteria together clean the water, there is no need to keep flushing out the system and wasting water. The fish themselves are "the canary in the mine", as Paulo put it, as their condition will indicate the presence of any toxicity.

Such systems can work in an urban or semi-urban environment, are resource efficient, fertiliser and pesticide free. They are safe and resilient. They are widely based on renewable energy, and can run using 70% less energy than conventional growing methods.

This project is part of the Open Source Commons where resources are shared. 'Open source' is a term originally used to describe computer programs distributed with the original 'source' code used to write the program. Readers using Linux OS, Libre Office or Firefox and the like on their computers will be familiar with the concept.

This means that all the designs for the aquaponics system are available for anyone to read, copy, modify and redistribute. That includes the electronic circuits they designed and the software running on them, as well as documentation. Anyone can copy their system, including diagrams and documentation, the whole thing, although they have to be credited with the work.

Many people find that by sharing their designs with others across the world, the end result is much better engineering. Improvements and new features are shared rather than being kept to just one person or company. It's much more productive to build freely on other people's work because patents, monopolies and license restrictions act as a damper on innovation.

Paulo's own story is as interesting as his topic. Having lived in a society with huge economic and social gaps he witnessed the consequences of this reality for the entire population - from poor to wealthy - and for the environment, and therefore realised very early people would enjoy their time much more if they all lived in a more educated and balanced civilization.

He graduated as an engineer but was not drawn to pursue it professionally and also wanted to make a positive impact in the world. He first went to America before continental Europe, then fetched up in Wakefield to work as an intern for the Able Project where he first began to learn about aquaponics. Next, Paulo got a paid job with Green Futures Building in Sheffield and found accommodation courtesy of couchsurfing.com before landing a post with Aquaponics Lab as their Project Developer.

The goal of Aquaponics Lab fitted with Paulo's personal and societal goals: to make local, affordable and healthy food accessible to everyone by empowering people to feed and educate themselves using an Open Source philosophy and Makers Movement approach. This includes creating long term mutual beneficial partnerships instead of one off relationships.

Education is firmly embedded in the way Aquaponics Lab works and they have a relationship with Todmorden High School which includes visits from the students, who don't have far to go, Incredible AquaGarden being on Ewood Lane at the rear of the High School; as well as experiments to help develop the systems in use. Since 2013 they have also been providing support to Equilibrium, a not-for-profit co-operative based in Brazil using Aquaponics as a tool to develop an educational project and to enable the development of a solidarity economy in their area.

Paulo's interesting talk prompted a number of questions which revealed that countries such as the USA and Australia with climates more advantageous to aquaponics than ours, grow commercially by this means and that the system lends itself to horticulture rather than agriculture.

Peter Carrigan, himself a volunteer with Aquaponics, moved the vote of thanks and gave the usual token of appreciation.

Paulo's talk was illustrated using Prezi, a super whizz presentation tool which has left PowerPoint far behind. He was able to show diagramatically how the various systems work as well as pictures of Aquaponics Lab. For those interested in learning more, technical or otherwise, their work with Tod High, volunteering or just visiting, see their website at aquaponicslab.org. For Incredible AquaGarden, see this web page.

The next general meeting of Todmorden U3A is at 1.30 pm on Thursday, 19 February at Central Methodists, Todmorden. The speaker will be Robert Cockroft on Father to Son: from Cloth to Poetry in Lament for the Mills. Details of group meetings are on u3atod.org.uk or phone 01422 844713 or 01706 839176.


Many thanks to John Bouttell for this report



Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

HebWeb News: British Professional Cycling – Tykes and Le Tour de France (11 December 2014)

HebWeb News: Life in La Serenissima, Venice - Kathryn Ogden (9 July 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: The Machine that Changed the World (25 February 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Music and the Deaf (12 February 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Psychology and You - Part Two David Groves made a welcome return as a speaker at the October Todmorden U3A (26 October 2013)

HebWeb News: Hebden Bridge Little Theatre, A Short History was recounted by Ray Riches to the University of the Third Age. (28 Aug 2013)

HebWeb News: John Sheard, retired land agent to the Duke of Devonshire, gave his third talk to members of the U3A, this time on Sir Joseph Paxton, Knighted Gardener (26 July 2013)

HebWeb News: Off Stage Choices: Andrew Rawlinson recounts his theatre experience from Tod Operatic to General Manager of a leading Theatre Group. (18 July 2013)

HebWeb News: The Story of the Hebden Bridge Calendar (April 2013)

HebWeb News: Changing Times in the Press (March 2013)

HebWeb News: Cancer from Both Sides (Nov 2012)

HebWeb News: Steve Halliwell outlined the history of the Woodland Trust (Sept 2012)

HebWeb News: Ray Riches talks on Walking the Pacific Crest Trail (Aug 2012)

HebWeb News: Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison (July 2012)

HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)

HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)

HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant

HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance

HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century

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