Aquaponic Systems, a Financially and Environmentally Sustainable Urban Farming Alternative in Maryland Taught Through Peer Learning Groups

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $183,663.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2026
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Jose-Luis Izursa
University of Maryland


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), other
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animals: fish, other


  • Animal Production: other
  • Crop Production: cropping systems, greenhouses, high tunnels or hoop houses, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, market study, new enterprise development
  • Production Systems: aquaponics
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem or Opportunity and Justification:

    The growing trend for local and sustainable food production systems has increased interest in urban/peri-urban agriculture. Urban growers seek to achieve triple-bottom-line impacts from their farms: to generate profits, provide food, and benefit the environment. However, limited land and soil restrict the production necessary to expand food access in communities and generate enough income for a profitable enterprise.

    Aquaponic farming is a promising solution to space and soil limitations, with minimal environmental impacts. Aquaponics is a soilless farming method that combines aquaculture (produce fish in a recirculating system) and hydroponics (produce vegetables in a soilless environment). Aquaponics’ circular production system recycles nutrients and water, thus reducing wastewater and fertilizer costs. 

    Although there is growing interest, the number of aquaponic farms in the US is small, and crop and fish varieties are limited. Growers in the Northeast seek more lucrative fish species to raise, requiring updated local research on what fish and crops will be most financially viable to growers in the Chesapeake Bay region.

    High start-up costs are prohibitive for limited-resource farmers and farmers from historically underserved communities, while ongoing production costs and price competition create barriers to profitability. Further, farmers are unclear on what permits and regulations apply to aquaponic farms in Maryland, adding to accessibility barriers to implementing aquaponics.

    Solution and Approach:

    To achieve financial sustainability, farmers need research-based training and technical assistance to develop low-cost aquaponic enterprises, to assess and access direct markets for their products, and to choose the right fish and crop species to produce for those markets. 

    Through peer learning groups and participatory research, farmers will acquire skills to design, build, and manage aquaponic systems, helping to reduce start-up costs and achieve efficient use of natural resources. We will assist farmers to navigate permits and regulations in real time, develop an aquaponics business plan and budget, conduct market research and choose the right fish and crop species to produce for those markets. 

    Activities will generate new resources for an area of agriculture that is not yet well researched or resourced. Knowledge gained will improve environmental and economic performance of aquaponic systems, enabling broader adoption of aquaponic methods and increased food production for community and economic growth in Maryland. By identifying the right choice for cash crops and high-revenue fish species while reducing start-up costs, we will improve aquaponics' financial sustainability.

    The research and educational materials developed throughout this project will continue to assist farmers in Maryland and throughout the Northeast after the lifecycle of this grant.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    5 farmers will adopt aquaponics as a food production method over a total of 5,000 sq. ft (total across all 5 farmers) using DIY construction methods, saving $20,000 each in start-up costs.


    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.