Nightly News   |  November 15, 2010

Fishing for food solutions, aquaponics offers clues

Aquaponics, a method of growing fish and plants together, creates a closed loop system that some say could help to address food shortages in places without access to fresh produce. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Washington, DC): We're back as promised to begin a new series this week taking a look at our planet. It's all part of Green Week on the networks of NBC Universal . Specifically tonight, the twin problems of needing to feed a growing population while treading lightly on the environment at the same time. There is one way now being promoted to do both. We get our report tonight from Milwaukee . Here's our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson .

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Dinner rush at La Merenda Restaurant in Milwaukee .

Mr. PETER SANDRONI (La Merenda Chef and Owner): Yeah, I'm going to make it right now!

THOMPSON: Tonight's special talapia, caught in this century old warehouse. The product of an even older technology called aquaponics now solving a modern problem.

Mr. JOSH FRAUNDORF: With our systems that we're trying to get to scale, you know, we can provide safe food year round.

THOMPSON: Josh Fraundorf runs Sweet Water Organics , growing fish and plants together. Aquaponics starts with the fish. They're nutrient rich waste feeds the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish. It's a closed loop system that shortens growing time for fish and vegetables like lettuce.

Mr. FRAUNDORF: It takes us about 35 days.

THOMPSON: And if you were to do it conventionally?

Mr. FRAUNDORF: Probably about 45 or 50 days, depending on the lettuce.

THOMPSON: There are no chemicals used here and aquaponics requires 80 percent less water than traditional farming. The people here at Sweet Water have figured out how to grow a lot of food with little cost to the environment, and that's an idea that could have a big impact on another problem, how to get fresh or portable food to places that don't have it. More than 23 million Americans don't have easy access to grocery stores with fresh food. A problem aquaponics won't solve tomorrow.

Source: USDA Mr. ALFONSO MORALES (Professor, University of Wisconsin School of Urban & Regional Planning ): Aquaponics is about 20 years out from being an important part of the food system, both because of the business models that have to emerge and because the young people have to be trained and acclimated into those business models .

Mr. EMMANUEL PRATT (Sweet Water Foundation Executive Director): This is the future.

THOMPSON: So Sweet Water is developing the next generation of farmers. What do you hope all these kids take away from this experience?

Mr. PRATT: That they can do something about where we're at, the situation, this crisis that we're under.

THOMPSON: At La Merenda it's taking fresh to new levels.

Mr. SANDRONI: To get something down the street that was alive within the last 15 minutes of my ordering it, I mean, it's phenomenal. It's going to taste ridiculously fresh.

THOMPSON: A healthy option for people and the planet. Anne Thompson , NBC News, Milwaukee .