by Bevan Suits
Note: This opinion on sustainability is submitted by guest writer, Bevan Suits, founder of Access to Aquaponics (http://accesstoaquaponics.com/).
Sustainability is a state of balance. We see it in nature every day but we don’t notice it until something goes haywire. Take the Dust Bowl for example. In the early 1900s, cattle ranching across the Great Plains began to be replaced by cultivation. With new efficient technologies, farmers were able to plow vast areas of virgin prairie. They didn’t realize that the grass was essential to the ecosystem. The grass and twelve inches of topsoil was a skin that held in place the soil and moisture below. Removing it was preparation for a huge disaster. Erosion began to wash the soil away and all of the nutrients with it.
Beginning in 1930, drought allowed the soil to become dry dust. Over the next few years, a series of windstorms took the dust to the skies and the US experienced an ecological and economic catastrophe. Millions of tons of soil darkened the skies of the eastern US all the way to New England. In some areas of the Great Plains, day was turned to night by the “black blizzards” that reduced visibility to inches, destroying a way of life and an ecosystem only inches in depth.
This was perhaps our first hard lesson in sustainability. The US government stepped in to promote better farming methods and work on rehabilitating the land. The big word then was not sustainability but conservation.
We experienced on a very large scale how new, powerful farming technology, and the desire for profit, tipped the scales toward imbalance, with disastrous results for economy and ecology. This lesson did sink in, but not much beyond better ways to plow. Grass was still just grass.
Sustainability exists all around us in the ecology and the economy. It is a state of balance that is ordinary and invisible. We don’t appreciate it until things big things fall apart. In the fall of 2008, the economy was in a “free fall”. We were looking for the “bottom”, another way of saying sustainability. It seems to have leveled out, but we are reminded that our man-made economy follows natural laws of balance, and we seem to have a lot to learn.
Only 80 years after the Dust Bowl, we’re pressured to think and act smarter. We are smarter, but the question is this: “Who is driving?” Unfortunately, it’s too often the corporate mind-set that values short-term profit over long-term sustainable returns, which includes profit along with quality of life benefits. The concept of just enough is spun into anti-business.
Our economic condition is our latest lesson on sustainability. Hopefully we are gaining a larger awareness of how things are connected that will help us make better decisions. This awareness is what’s behind the interest in local food, a building block of economics that has been lost. The interest in local food drives the interest in aquaponics, a technology that grows fish and vegetables in the same system. It has the capacity to deliver a lot of food quickly in a small space.
If you consider the history of agricultural technology, it’s all been about cultivating increasing acreage with greater efficiency. Aquaponics breaks the mold and provides a solution based on concentrated yields in portable or fixed containers. It’s a scalable system that can be delivered and installed most anywhere at a very low cost.
Aquaponics is sustainable technology that doesn’t seem to have a downside. It has a lot to teach. May I suggest it is worth your time to look into it.