When you look around The Perennial's dining room, you see that agriculture is integrated into the decor: vegetables, herbs, and micro-greens growing in a "living pantry" mounted along hte walls and in the front window; and an aquarium filled with fish. All of these reflect our restaurant's offsite aquaponic system that reduces food waste, conserves water, prevents pollution, and allows us to grow whatever unusual plants we want to serve--plus, it offers a way to start conversations about where our food comes from.
So what does “aquaponic” mean? It means that we are raising plants and fish together in a mutually beneficial arrangement, where the plants send their roots down into water fertilized by the fish. We love aquaponic farming because it uses only one-tenth of the water and is about six times more productive per square foot relative to soil-based agriculture, but an added benefit for The Perennial is that it helps us reduce food waste. That is, we’ve developed a closed-loop system that converts our kitchen scraps into fresh, delicious fish and produce.
The Perennial is building a 2,000-square-foot aquaponic greenhouse in West Oakland, where we also built raised beds irrigated by the water from the fish tanks. We bring our kitchen scraps to be “composted” by chickens, worms, and black soldier fly larvae. The worms and larvae are dehydrated and made into fish food for sturgeon, catfish, and clams who live in water that is filtered through a tank of pebbles seeded with beneficial bacteria that convert ammonia, first into nitrites, and then nitrates. This nitrate-rich water is circulated to our planting beds where it provides excellent, non-synthetic nutrition for our plants, which will be transferred to the living pantry in The Perennial’s dining room and eventually served at the restaurant. Once mature, the fish and clams will also be on the menu.
Of course, not all of our food will come from our greenhouse. We are working with local soil-based farms to source all sorts of things that we can’t raise ourselves. And we aren’t suggesting that aquaponics should replace regular farms. Far from it. But as a society, we need to start thinking more seriously about food in terms of systems design, and imagine better feedback mechanisms (pardon the pun) between farming and eating, and aquaponics helps open that discussion. We hope to start offering tours of the greenhouse soon—please check back soon for updates—but in the meantime, you can check out the smaller scale operation we’ve got going in The Perennial’s dining room. (We think it’s pretty cool.)