August 23, 2012

Growing Your Own Garden

Junior industrial design students Sarah Fox and Greg Ordway are using unique fertilizers for their indoor vegetable garden: goldfish.

As part of Professor Frederick Kuhn’s industrial design studio—which tasked the students with creating a product that could eliminate food waste—the duo are employing a new type of farming called aquaponics to create an eco-friendly system for growing plants that uses the fish’s waste.

Aquaponics is the melding of hydroponics—growing plants with nutrient-rich water and no soil—and aquaculture—raising fish in tanks.

Today, most aquaponics systems are housed in industrial-sized facilities. Fox and Ordway wanted to develop a simple system for people to use in their own homes, thereby reducing the number of miles fruits and vegetables have to travel, saving gas and money.

“People don’t realize the waste they’re creating when they eat strawberries from California,” said Fox, who said the class made her more aware of food waste.

The appeal of aquaponics is its efficiency, with a typical system using 10 percent of the water of conventional farming. The model that Fox and Ordway have created is also extremely user-friendly: the at-home grower only needs to feed the fish once a day in order to keep the fish and plants healthy.

When they went into the Cambridge hydroponics store GYOstuff (the GYO stands for Grow Your Own) to buy supplies and mentioned their project, owner Eli Constantinou, a 1996 construction management alum, was intrigued. He is now advising them through the design process, and the product is now being featured in GYOstuff’s shop window.

For the fall semester, Fox and Ordway will be their own bosses. They received approval to create their own co-ops so they can focus solely on producing and marketing their aquaponics design, with the assistance of GYOstuff.

Though they aren’t done tinkering with the design, they have still reaped the benefits of aquaponics: they’ve been able to eat some of the basil they’ve grown in the studio and hope to be munching on cucumbers, radishes, and lettuce soon.

Their goal is to get even more people to eat food that they’ve grown in their own homes. Ultimately, Ordway said, “We’re trying to get people more aware of where their food comes from.”

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