October 11, 2019

Growing vertically: Deepwater Farms brings fresh fish and greens to the city, year round

By Zenon Andryo

Tucked away near industrial rail lines sits Deepwater Farms, one of Alberta’s first aquaponics farms. Aquaponics, a system where waste from farmed fish is used to provide nutrients to plants is just one stream (no pun intended) of urban agriculture that is exploding across the planet.  Despite current crop limitations and high start-up costs, over 22,000 vertical farming patents were filed globally between 2014 and 2016 alone, and the vertical farming industry is projected to be worth nearly $7 billion by 2022.

Deepwater Farms’ innovative indoor facility is 10,000 sq. ft. of sustainable seafood and greens, supplying hundreds of pounds of produce and protein to local restaurants, bars and markets in Calgary, a growing urban centre with 1.4 million residents.

By harnessing the power of aquaponics to grow leafy produce like arugula, kale and mustard greens, Deepwater Farms is able to provide sustenance year-round with their indoor operation.

Deepwater Farms runs a sustainable closed-loop system, where the natural waste of the fish is used to feed the plants and the remaining water is then cycled back to the fish.

Because the produce is grown in a controlled environment, several factors for growing a healthy crop change:

  • The plants receive a controlled amount of light 24/7.
  • No weather or variations affect crop production.
  • Chemicals for pests and disease are limited, if not totally absent.
  • No soil, plant nutrient uptake is done with hydroponics.

Greens and fish, a symbiotic relationship

Over 30,000 fish are raised at Deepwater, a mix between Barramundi (Australian Seabass) and Tilapia live in carefully managed tanks.

The fish are fed, and the waste is filtered through a complex system that breaks down and re-purposes the waste into nutrient-rich food for the plants, while the plants keep the fish tanks clean. The fish continue to eat and grow until they’re big enough to be moved into a purging tank where their own bodies clean themselves before being netted and sold to market.

This closed-loop system is a symbiotic relationship that drives the entire ecosystem of Deepwater’s operation.

baby arugula, mixed baby kale and mizuna mustard greens

Deepwater Farms aquaponics facility produces greens including baby arugula, mixed baby kale and mizuna mustard greens.

Aquaponics is a growing industry

Innovative systems like the ones seen at Deepwater Farms are changing how we grow food and how we perceive food production while offering a local product. Aquaponics is growing increasingly popular in North America, due to its efficiency and year-round growing conditions, allowing consumers access to fresh local produce in even the coldest of winter climates.

Globally, climate isn’t the only reason more and more people are growing vertically. Densely packed cities like New York, Tokyo, London are taking advantage of the technology and implementing it into abandoned office spaces and warehouses. Entire neighborhoods are being revitalized with growing spaces, and booming cultural hubs are developing around them.

On top of what Deepwater offers in kale, baby arugula and mustard greens, other indoor farms are growing several other varieties of lettuce, herbs, chives, strawberries, tomatoes, and cannabis (legally, in Canada). Crops like wheat, corn, rice and barley cannot yet be grown due to indoor farms simply lacking necessary square footage.

Local fish with local flavour

When we think of local cuisine, particularly in Alberta, we think about grade A beef and craft beer, not seafood. Deepwater is changing that, with their tilapia and seabass available across Calgary. Deepwater’s fast-growing produce is ready for you to try at local restaurants and markets like Ten Foot Henry’s, Modern Ocean, Una Pizza, Billingsgate Fish Market and the Calgary Farmers Market.

AdFarm’s Derek Kent and his wife enjoying Deepwater Farms locally sourced arugula just 10 kilometers away at Una Pizza.

Modern Ocean’s Barramundi (Sea Bass), raised at Deepwater Farms.  Photo courtesy Modern Ocean.

Modern Ocean’s Barramundi (Sea Bass), raised at Deepwater Farms.
Photo courtesy Modern Ocean.

Zenon Andryo is a Multimedia Content Specialist with an obsession for the latest in tech innovations, whether it be a new piece of farm equipment, or a gadget he can add to his ever-expanding camera bag. Also an avid oxford comma advocate.