It’s hard to believe that here, in one of the major agricultural regions in the United States, there is still a problem with food insecurity. According to California Food Policy Advocates, at least 4 million Californians can’t always afford to buy food — and thousands of those food-insecure households are in the Monterey Bay area.
A new nonprofit working to make a difference is Both Co., which got its start two years ago when students at Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey built an aquaponics system to take a stand against thirst and hunger.
Aquaponics is being touted as a way in which to grow more food in less space, and using only 10 percent of the water that it takes to grow a traditional garden. Not that aquaponics is new — in fact, these kinds of systems have been used around the world for thousands of years — but it’s now gaining popularity with sustainability communities in the United States.
Systems typically feature a fish tank or pond as well as plants; water from the fish container — full of natural fertilizer — waters the plants. The plants’ roots filter and cleanse the water before it’s returned to the fish container. In addition, the fish are also intended for human consumption.
Build enough backyard aquaponics systems, and you have an ideal way for people to feed themselves, and without depleting the local water supply. It might sound a tad complicated and scientific, and Both Co. executive director Janna Tazlaff acknowledges aquaponics might seem daunting at first.
“Once you understand how to do it, it’s easy,” Ratzlaff said. “It’s something anyone can use.”
The name Both Co. comes from the group’s mission, which is solving both thirst and hunger using aquaponics methods. If less water is needed to grow vegetable crops, then there’s more water for other uses. And in California, where an increasing population depends on an uncertain supply of water, aquaponics could definitely make a difference.
Spreading the word through education is a big part of what Both Co. is about, according to executive director Janna Ratzlaff. Both Co. volunteers are working with Cal State Monterey Bay service learners as well as setting up booths at local farmers markets and Earth Day events to hand out information on aquaponics.
She is especially proud of the CSUMB program: “Some of them have learned so much … one of our students is now in the Philippines making aquaponics systems.”
And plans are now under way for a unique partnership with CSUMB to grow all the produce for its cafeteria, Ratzlaff said, upping that campus’s green quotient even further.
Both Co. is already growing a variety of herbs and vegetables at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and at a site in Del Rey Oaks, and is donating its bounty to the Food Bank for Monterey County and Dorothy’s Kitchen in Salinas, as well as selling it at the Marina Certified Farmers Market.
The nonprofit currently has a Kickstarter program to raise money to build four more aquaponics systems in the county. Its volunteers also offer consultation and design services for aquaponics systems. For more about Both Co., check out its website (www.bothco.org) and Facebook page.
Ratzlaff said that Both Co. is made up of a dedicated all-volunteer corps, herself included. Every penny they raise goes back into what they do. And her hope is that the educational seeds they plant will multiply and spread around the world.
“That’s what we really hope for, is that our students will go out and teach it to other people,” she said.
Do you have questions or tips about sustainable living around the Central Coast? Send them to Kathryn McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kathryn McKenzie at www.facebook.com/kathrynmckenziewriter.