The Viability of Small Scale Aquaponics in Urban and Rural Underserved Communities

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $2,915.04
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Gregory Fripp
Whispering Roots

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries), melons
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, greens (leafy), peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Production Systems: aquaponics
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:


    I have been building Aquaponics systems since 1999. My Aquaponic systems are geared towards small and emerging farms. The closed re-circulating systems consist of agricultural tanks and fish tanks ranging in size from 10 gallons up to 1000 gallons coupled with media-based grow beds capable of growing various leafy greens, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, herbs, cantaloupe strawberries and other crops. These environmentally-sound organic growing systems are capable of producing 80-100 heads of lettuce per 4’X4’ growing bed and can support 150lbs – 200lbs of fish per 300 gallon tank given proper filtration and operator experience. Our first 1000 gallon tank system will be constructed as part of the Urban Agriculture and Food Hub collaborative project with the non-profit organization “No More Empty Pots” in North Omaha. Using Tilapia as the foundation of my system, I have grown and sold several types of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, Basil, Arugula and other leafy greens. I collaborated with the Nebraska Department of Fisheries and received approval to legally raise Tilapia Aquaponically. I have Aquaponic systems running in Metro Community College, King Middle School, Blackburn High School, Solomon Girls After- School Program, Lothrup Elementary School and Monroe Middle School. I am building Aquaponics systems for Bancroft Elementary and McMillan Middle school. In addition to the small commercial Aquaponic system run out of my home, I have begun building small “home use” aquaponic systems for individuals. I participated in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Growing Freshwater Prawn in Hog Barns Project in 2000. I completed the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center Greenhouse Design and Engineering Course, the Greater Growth Commercial Aquaponics Course and the Chicago State University Aquaponics course. My Aquaponics/Produce advisory and collaboration board consists of Dean Rosenthal (Nebraska Department of Fisheries), Casey Foster (Nebraska Department of Agriculture), Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons (Tilapia Expert), Dr. Merle Jensen (Hydroponics Expert) and Charlie Shultz (Aquaponic Expert Kentucky State University). My work has resulted in the receipt of several sustainability, local foods and educational awards from organizations such as Whole Foods, The Doris Buffet Learning By Giving Foundation and the American Culinary Institute.


    According to the 2010-2011 American Community Survey, poverty increased in Nebraska by nearly 3%. For Black and Hispanic youth (0 to 17 years old) that poverty rate was pushed to 52.2% and 33.8%, respectively. There is sufficient income in the community to support local foods enterprise while also equipping the most disenfranchised populations to improve education, increase personal income and develop community centered solutions to significant economic, nutritional and health disparities. The lack of access to fresh, local produce and protein is an issue faced by both urban and rural communities. The ability for communities to grow their own food including a protein source, such as fish, at the point of consumption could be a critical factor in helping communities become self-sufficient while providing healthy food to their populations.

    Through a collaborative, comprehensive, urban farming initiative, Whispering Roots will focus on the production and training portion of our healthy food project. Whispering Roots will expand its highly successful school based Aquaponics pilot initiative by scaling up its Aquaponic work to include more systems design research, crop growth research and community engagement. The fact that Aquaponics systems are closed, organic, recirculating systems requiring up to 90% less water to grow crops speaks to the sustainability and environmental friendliness of the process.


    • June 2013 – Construction of the system
    • September 2013 – System Functional
    • October 2013 – Harvest of first crops and tours begin
    • November 2013 – System Training begins
    • December 2013 to project end - Ongoing training per outreach schedule above
    • Tours will occur on a monthly basis.



    There are no previous SARE projects in our geographic area addressing Aquaponics for small scale Urban and Rural farmers. The Aquaponics research projects that I have personally initiated with no outside assistance are listed above and encompass elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and community colleges. We are building on this successful work by constructing larger scale Aquaponics systems which will focus on efficiency and production capabilities for Urban and Rural small farmers. We are including partners such as the Golden Hills organization whose primary populations reside in rural communities as poverty and lack of access to nutritional food is not limited to the urban environment. We are also working with Aquaponics experts throughout the US to find solutions for the specific challenges we face in Nebraska and Iowa.

    In addition, I am consulting with Energy Rescue and Sheltering Tree on their Farmer-Rancher Grant Project to address additional populations in need including the mentally challenged. By engaging other organizations that specialize in distribution, food aggregation, cooking, etc., Whispering Roots will be able to leverage its specialty of sustainable food production to help provide a comprehensive solution to a very difficult problem. By collaborating with the educational institutions, this focused effort will result in our Aquaponics knowledge being shared with a broad spectrum of the residents in our food shed.


    Over the past 2 years, I have worked diligently to forge mutually beneficial working relationships with several educational institutions, government offices and non-profit organizations in Nebraska and Iowa in order to share Aquaponic information with the public. I am a stakeholder in the Collaborative Community Centered Urban Ag & Food Systems Innovation Zone Project which is focused on creating a centralized “Food Hub” location for healthy food production and distribution in an urban environment. As this SARE grant project will be part of the larger Omaha Urban Food Hub initiative, we will be conducting regular onsite training sessions and tours for the community. We currently open our facility on a monthly basis for community engagement meetings and tours.

    Per their letter of support, Golden Hills Resource Conservation Development organization in Oakland, IA will assist in this proposal by supporting field days to share project development, and results with other farmers and ranchers in the combined areas of southwest Iowa and southeast Nebraska, also publishing material on our websites, and presenting results at multiple regional and statewide meetings of the Iowa Food Systems Council, the Center For Rural Affairs, and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

    In addition, the outreach program will include the following:

    - Two Quarterly Aquaponics classes at Iowa Western Community College including Introduction to Aquaponics and Aquaponics System Construction

    - One Commercial Aquaponics Presentation each quarter at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha Nebraska

    - Two presentations at the University of Nebraska Omaha Service Learning Seminar for Educators


    As part of our collaborative Food Hub initiative, Creighton University will be assisting with the development of appropriate quantitative and qualitative evaluation measures of the proposed project. They will analyze data collected throughout the grant period, measure progress toward objectives and determine whether objectives were met. Quantitative milestones of the project include the amount of food produced and harvested, the number of participants in training programs, and number of producers etc. The qualitative evaluations will be based on surveys of individuals involved in facility activities including, urban ag, producers, community residents, participants, volunteers, and customers. Survey data will include evaluation of the change in eating habits and local economies, and contribution to the support of local food systems. Periodic surveying throughout the grant period will help assess whether project is on track and serving the needs of the community.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.