Travel, Gardens

Turning Over a New Leaf With Aquaponic Farming

The Cape West Coast's Forest Friends Urban Farm grows edible greens ingeniously via aquaponic systems. 
Georgia East

On a smallholding in the West Coast town of Vredenburg, partners Louis and Nadine Kuys are growing a range of edible greens thanks to their ingenious system of aquaponic irrigation. 

Louis’ love for aquaponics (a method of farming hybridised from aquaculture and hydroponics) saw the family move from a larger farm in Hopefield to their current agrarian retreat in Vredenburg. 

Supplying two large supermarket chains as well as restaurants in nearby Langebaan and Paternoster with fresh produce, Louis and Nadine are meeting the demand for healthy, organically grown salad greens. Harnessing a passion for the environment, the couple began Forest Friends Urban Farm that they now share with their two-year-old daughter Ellie, a family of chickens and two milking goats. Not to be excluded, Forest Friend’s unique system of farming also includes a school of tilapia fish, whose nitrogen-rich waste provides nourishment to the lettuces grown through aquaponics. 

Although currently nurturing myriad varietals of leafy greens, such as oak leaf lettuce, cos, butter lettuce and basil to name a few, Nadine mentions that she and Louis are keen to expand into heirloom vegetables as well as hosting workshops where visitors can create their own smaller aquaponic system to utilise at home. The desire to teach children where food comes from and how it is farmed is something close to the couple’s heart – that and minimising their carbon footprint.

Through symbiotic farming, Forest Friends has created a cyclical environment where waste is almost non-existent. Nutrients in the form of waste from the tilapia (who are also sold as sustainably farmed fish to restaurants) are filtered into the greenhouse, where it feeds the lettuces, while any offcuts from the produce are given to the hens as feed. Whatever might be left behind is turned into compost to nourish Nadine’s kitchen garden. And so the cycle continues. Because the lettuce is housed in a specially made tunnel, evaporation and wind damage to the produce is minimal, and Louis can grow between 3 000 and 4 000 plants at a time. 

Essentially a closed ecosystem, Louis’ aquaponic invention uses 90% less water than conventional farming methods, making your salad taste that extra bit virtuous. 

Find Forest Friends Urban Farm at 2C Aquarius Street, Witteklip Landgoed, Vredenburg or visit urbanfarmaquaponics.co.za.