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Tilapia Grows on a Rooftoop in Downtown Brooklyn

By Janet Upadhye | October 1, 2012 9:14am

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — All that's needed to farm local produce and grow ultra-fresh seafood is homemade tanks, 100 tilapia fish and some rooftop space on Flatbush Avenue.

At least, that's the message being sent out by VertiCulture, a group that's providing fresh fish and vegetables to a Brooklyn farmstand.

The group, set up by Ashley King, Miles Crettien, Peter Spartos, and Ryan Morningstar, has created an aquaponics installation that they hope will serve as a prototype for other programs in New York City.

"As city-dwellers we have to learn to be innovative in food growth," Morningstar said. "Aquaponics is a great model for food production that is local, sustainable, and does great in an urban setting."

The installation uses the waste materials of the fish to fertilize plants. In turn, plant waste is used to feed the fish.

Virtually all that is needed are water tanks full of swimming fish, pipes pumping water from the fish tank to plant beds, pipes pumping cleansed water from the plant beds back into the fish tank, and some fish food.

Of course, knowledge of the delicate symbiotic relationship between fish and plants is also a bonus in creating a successful operation, according to Morningstar.

The best part is that it can be done almost anywhere.

VertiCulture chose a rooftop because the space was donated to them by Al Attara, the owner of a former bank at 33 Flatbush Ave. who promotes creative, ecologically minded projects in his building, according to The New York Times.

With the right materials, aquaponics systems could also be installed on a deck, in a greenhouse, or even indoors.

VertiCulture has agreed to donate their produce and tilapia to the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership farm stand. The farm stand, now in its third season, provides farm fresh food at low costs to the local community.

"The farm stand is a great place for us to donate the food we grow," Morningstar said.

"We both stand for food justice and they are literally blocks away — that's as local as it gets."