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Organic Consumers Association

'Farm in a Barrel': Raise Fish and Grow Your Own Organic Vegetables

Talk about eating locally.

It doesn't get much more local than your own backyard.

A Georgia company is selling 'Farm in a Barrel.' It's a self-contained eco-system that allows homeowners to raise organic fish and vegetables at the same time. The method, called aquaponics, combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in a soil-less system.) The fish produce the nutrients to feed the plants, while the plants and bacteria clean the water for the fish.

Earth Solutions' smallest system is about $200. Fish, such as tilapia, catfish, and bass live in the detached bottom half of the barrel, while basil, lettuce and strawberries grow in the top half. Tilapia is a hardy fish that produces a lot of ammonia - don't ask - for the plants to grow.

Larger systems cost upwards of $2,500, but also produce a lot more organically grown fish and food.

A beginner's kit comes with one-inch long fingerlings. It takes about seven months for the fish to reach maturity - or plate size. At that point it's up to you whether to eat one a week or have all the neighbors over for an old-fashioned fish fry.

For the squeamish, Earth Solutions owner David Epstein recommends putting the fish on ice to kill them.

"They just fall asleep," said Epstein, who is also a medical doctor. "You can cook them whole. Leave the head on, slice the belly and take the guts out."

To keep the fish year round, use a greenhouse or a heater to keep the fish comfortable. If you don't want to eat the fish, try hardy goldfish.

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