Pot Bust in Chester Gives Way to Aquaponic Farming in West Philly

A wise man once said, “never knock synergy,” and, judging by this story, Chester police tend to agree. Last month, police in Chester raided a former drugstore, uncovering a huge hydroponic grow house containing around 100 marijuana plants, commercial-grade lighting and large industrial generators.

After confiscating the equipment and presumably burning the $43,000 worth of crop (I’ll never understand that), police decided to turn high-grade, industrial hydroponic growing equipment into lemonade. So, they gave the equipment to the Urban Food Lab of the Partnership Community Development Corp.

The organization has since installed the lighting equipment in a West Philly storefront to produce vegetables herbs and, yes, fish using a new growing method called aquaponics. Executive Director Steve Williams tells the Associated Press that the project aims to spur economic growth in addition to providing a welcome food source alternative in an area known to be a food desert.

Aquaponics is essentially a cross between hydroponics and aquaculture (“raising aquatic animals”). So, if you smoke herb and you’re into fish, listen up; here’s how it works. First, fish crap into a fish tank, and that nutrient-rich water, in turn, feeds plants. The excess shit-water then gets filtered by the plants and gets dumped back into the tank with the fish. Pretty neat, huh? The process is obviously ideal for urban farming, where space and resources aren’t always readily available.

According to the report, the West Philly location has installed a 4,200-gallon tank containing some 80 tilapia. Williams told reporters that the store should be up and running by this August, but that hasn’t stopped inquisitive locals from taking a peek at the admittedly strange estaslishment. “They can’t wait to buy from us,” said Williams.

Even if fish and vegetables make you gag, you can’t argue with economic growth; once the farm is fully operational, Williams claims that he should be able to employ some 50 local workers and produce around 7,000 pounds of produce each year.

Associated Press| Photos via Philly.com, Aquaponic Systems Online

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