The Viability of Small Scale Aquaponics in Urban and Rural Underserved Communities

April 12, 2018

Combining concepts from both aquaculture and hydroponics, aquaponics systems produce both fish and plants. The practice dates as far back as sixth century China, where duck pens were placed over fish ponds that eventually connected to rice paddies and fields (Tonya Sawyer, 2014).

More recently, Nebraska aquaponics expert, Greg Fripp has been building closed, recirculating aquaponics systems for small and emerging farms since 1999 with his company Whispering Roots. Using tilapia fish as the foundation of his systems, he has grown and sold several types of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, basil, arugula, and other leafy greens. In addition to producing food, Fripp believes aquaponic systems can help improve education, increase personal income, and develop community-centered solutions to significant economic, nutritional, and health disparities.

After installing several systems at local schools, Fripp noticed that the ability for communities to grow their own food (including a protein source, such as fish) could be a critical factor in helping communities become self-sufficient while providing healthy food to their community members.

In 2013, he received a $2,915 Farmer Rancher grant to expand Whispering Roots’ school-based aquaponics work to include more “Multiple tours were conducted and included individuals from urban communities, colleges, universities, and non-profit organizations as well as representatives from rural school districts, state agencies, and visitors from other states,” reported Fripp. “The marked increase in aquaponic research projects, home systems, commercial scale, and semi-commercial scale systems is a testament to the importance of this work.”

The success of the project contributed to Whispering Roots’ award of a $25,000 grant from the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center Preventing Childhood Obesity Grant program to implement the process in several additional communities. Fripp is also engaged in several other community based aquaponics projects, including the development of a community engagement and training center for Whispering Roots in North Omaha, Nebraska.

“Aquaponics has the potential to provide access to healthy vegetables and fish (protein) to underserved communities at the point of consumption,” said Fripp. “Like all farming, there is risk associated with the work and there are no guarantees of success. Interested parties should approach these projects with open minds and good planning to help ensure the greatest likelihood of having a positive outcome.”

View Greg Fripp's presentation on this project, from the 2017 Farmers Forum, through NCR-SARE's YouTube playlist. Visit for this and other videos.

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Topics: Aquaponics
Related Locations: North Central