Written by guest blogger, Dan Divelbiss, one of the masterminds behind the Zoo’s aquaponics system.
“Waste” does not exist in nature. All our furred, feathered, and finned friends don’t take a trash can out to the curb each week to watch their undesirables go “away”. Instead nature has a plan for every scrap and left-over. As we learn from nature, we too can begin to apply this concept to our lives. If you were recently walking past the Base Camp Café on your way to Africa, you may have noticed a greenhouse filled with water, fish, and plants. This is the Zoo’s newest effort synergize with nature’s design ethic: Aquaponics!
Simply stated, aquaponics is growing fish to eat (aquaculture) and vegetables (hydroponics) together, where wastes from the fish are food for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. In this controlled environment, yields are high and reliable. Aquaponics systems range from simple, tabletop systems consisting of little more than goldfish and a few sprigs of basil to elaborate, commercial scale systems which employ many people and produce tons of food annually. This particular aquaponics system in the Greenhouse was designed to show how folks can build their own family-scale, aquaponic garden from materials available at local hardware/landscaping stores.
This system consists of a fish tank, two grow beds for vegetables, a pump, an aerator, solids filter, and a biofilter. Water flows through the system continuously in a closed-loop allowing nutrients and water to be cycled and recycled. If this system were meant to accommodate a higher fish density (aka more “waste” producers in the same space), it would require a few more components. However, this system with a low fish population and extensive biofiltration doesn’t require them.
Fish are housed in a tank. Water from the fish tank is pumped through solids removal and into a biofilter, where the fish waste is converted by bacteria from ammonia (possibly toxic to fish) into nitrates (non-toxic to fish) that can be used by plants. The water flows downhill from the biofilter into growing trays. Plants grow in beds of gravel or expanded clay (which also acts as an additional biofilter), or they are floated on the water in a floating raft. After the water passes through a network of plant roots, it is returned, cleansed, to the fish tank. All through the process, air is pumped into the system to ensure plenty of oxygen for the fish, beneficial bacteria, and plants. Each day the fish are fed and their excrement supplies the nutrients necessary for plant growth.
The current plants growing in the aquaponics system include basil, cucumber, and tomato. Each day, our SSA chefs harvest what they need for catering and restaurant meals, staying true to their commitment to providing our guests food that is as fresh and as local possible. For example, your caprese salad features basil grown in the Greenhouse, and picked just before it is tossed in your salad.
If you’d like to learn more about aquaponics, stop by the Zoo and check out this new exhibit next to the Base Camp Café. The Greenhouse was made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.
Dan Divelbiss, MS is the managing member of Waterfields, LLC, an urban agriculture development company focusing on bringing commercial aquaponics to the urban core to create living wage jobs, revitalize communities, and sell to Cincinnati’s local food market. Learn more at www.waterfieldsllc.com
August 28, 2013 4 Comments
Written by guest blogger, Jessica Klosinski, Sustainability Intern and AIP Graduate Student
While most teens are spending their summer at the pool or playing video games, others are educating Zoo visitors on sustainable choices and going green. The group is called “Green Teens” and you can find them volunteering in the Zoo’s Go Green Garden where they have spent most of their summer. The Go Green Garden exhibit is located across from the Elephants, not far from the Vine Street Village.
The teens describe their typical day as greeting and helping guests, giving green tours, helping in the Base Camp Café, and interacting with children. “Interacting with kids is the best; they get really excited,” says Hannah Quillin, 15. The teens are stationed in the Zoo’s Go Green Garden, an area dedicated to educating guests about the zoo’s green initiatives and how they can make sustainable choices in their own lives. Olivia King, 16, one of the green teens, says that talking about water conservation is her favorite part of the zoo’s green story. King and friend Mattina Girardot, 16, say that there is so much to talk about regarding water, from pervious pavement found throughout the zoo to the water retention tanks in the new Africa exhibit. Nicole Armbruster, 14, says that she loves to tell guests that we are “the Greenest Zoo in America.”
Another place the teens are active is in the Base Camp Café, recently deemed the greenest restaurant in America. The teens help educate the guests as they sort their waste into compost, recycle, and landfill. These teens aren’t all talk either, they say that volunteering has helped them feel connected to conservation and incorporate sustainable living into their own lives. “I yell at people at home for leaving the lights on,” says King. Melissa Holland, 15, shared that volunteering at the zoo has helped her be more involved in programs she didn’t know about before like participating in the Adopt an Animal program. “I recently adopted a female rhino,” Holland says.
The teens joked, saying they would love to require conservation actions from the public. “I wish everyone had to compost and recycle,” says Quillin. Volunteering at the zoo has also helped to develop responsibility and people skills both valuable in their future career endeavors. Holland has even considered a career in environmental engineering and conservation. The teens say this opportunity has helped them to become more outgoing and to meet other like-minded teens that care about conservation. Representing the greenest zoo in America is a big responsibility but these teens have taken on the challenge. Come visit the teens in the Go Green Garden the next time you visit the zoo; they would love to help you learn how to GO GREEN!
August 16, 2013 1 Comment
Help the Greenest Zoo in America raise money by recording YOUR green actions! Cincinnati’s regional sustainability alliance, Green Umbrella, is in the middle of their Spring Challenge in collaboration with MyActions.org, the social network for the planet. MyActions is a tool to share any green action you have taken throughout the day, and to encourage others to do the same. Tips, videos, and photographs can be shared to even further motivation and knowledge about green actions.
The Cincinnati Zoo has joined the challenge and we need YOUR help. Sign up to join our team, record your actions, and raise money for the Zoo. The Cincinnati Zoo has a team set up – all we need are members to join and start logging their actions! Go to http://www.myactions.org/greenumbrella, click on Cincinnati Zoo. You will then be taken to a sign up page – fill in your information and start logging your actions! You can even download the free app for your iPhone, iPod, and iPad which makes it even more convenient to share your actions.
Money is earned based on the number of actions and points you earn. Each time you log an action, you can include photos and comments – which gives you more points and more money! You can even share on Facebook.
The Zoo is currently #2 in the challenge behind Keep Cincinnati Beautiful. They have 35 members with 791 actions recorded and $230.25 raised for them. We have 34 members with 559 actions recorded and $131.25 raised for the Zoo.
Please sign up and start sharing your actions! Anything from recycling, adjusting the thermostat, carpooling, composting, turning lights off, unplugging electronics, taking short showers, sharing conservation information (so all keeper talks, shows, summer camps, etc. would be an action each day!), buying local, and biking are just a few of the actions that you can record. Each action you take can have a BIG impact on conservation. Saving water and energy, reducing waste and pollution, and raising awareness can all impact the habitats where these plants and animals live.
Share with your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, and ask them to join the Cincinnati Zoo’s team as a part of the Green Umbrella challenge, which ends June 22nd. Help us become #1 in the challenge, while raising money and doing good for wildlife.
June 12, 2013 2 Comments