Circular systems in the water

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Community and urban gardens are giving people new sustainable ways to produce food, and Lakewood’s Colorado Aquaponics is spreading word about a fast-growing new food producing method.

Aquaponics combine aquaculture — growing fish in a controlled environment — with hydroponics — growing plants in a soil-less media — to use the byproduct of one species to grow another.

“Our focus is the aquaponics system — how it is designed and built — and we do a lot of education for people who want to learn more about it,” said JD Sawyer, who founded the company with his wife, Tawnya. “We’re still doing research and development, but aquaponics can really help teach people how to take care of their own food.”

In an aquaponics system fish are put in a tank and their waste provides nutrients that helps plants — which get the water from pipes — grow, and in turn the plants filter the water and return it to the tanks clean for the fish. Depending on the type of fish used, when they are grown, they can be used as food.

“Naturally occurring bacteria convert the ammonia from the fish to nitrates,” Sawyer said. “The plants are then able to use the nutrient rich water to grow.”

Colorado Aquaponics makes use of The GrowHaus in downtown Denver and has two aquaponic systems set up — one smaller, one large with two fish tanks — to help grow food and demonstrate how the systems work.

The company is looking to move into the business of setting up systems, but currently teaches people and organizations how to design and maintain an aquaponics system, and how the systems can be used.

“We’re currently doing a project with Red Rocks Community College and the Colorado School of Mines where the students are designing an aquaponics system,” Sawyer said. “We mainly serve in an advisory position, and see a lot of opportunities to work with schools and other organizations to educate people about this.”

Colorado Aquaponics was able to get up and running thanks to its partnership with The GrowHaus — a partnership that was born out of shared interests.

“We knew we wanted to get aquaponics set up here, and so the timing really worked out perfectly,” said Adam Brok, director of operations at The GrowHaus. “What we’re doing is really a big, ambitious vision, and we’re making big strides.”

Colorado Aquaponics will be doing a four-day seminar on large farm options in June, but it offers free tours at 10 a.m. every Friday for people who want to learn more about the systems and their potential.

“Like a lot of people, we’re concerned about what our kids our eating, and about healthier foods for all,” Sawyer said. “There’s really not a subject that can’t be tied to this, from biology and chemistry to social justice.”

For more information on Colorado Aquaponics, visit www.coloradoaquaponics.com, and for information on The GrowHaus, visit www.thegrowhaus.com.