Jessica McKeil   |   July 25, 2018

Cannabis Aquaponics: Green Relief Is the First of Its Kind in North America

Big things are happening in the rolling landscape surrounding the industrial city of Hamilton, Ontario. In a 30,000ft subterranean bunker, partially hidden from view thanks to its living grass roof, Green Relief is growing medical marijuana using aquaponics.
Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She personally found relief through cannabis for the treatment of her panic and anxiety disorder. She is lucky…

As the first licensed grower in North America to adopt cannabis aquaponics on a commercial scale, they are betting on science to solve the growing concerns with energy efficiency and environmental degradation in the industry. Aquaponics is a farming technique used by the ancient Aztec peoples and the traditional rice paddies of Asia but now applied to many modern crops. It's even under investigation by NASA for future missions to Mars.

 

The Underlying Premise of Aquaculture

Aquaponics is a closed system cultivation technique, raising fish and plants together within the same closed-loop environment. What goes into the system stays in the system with each species taking advantage of the characteristics of the other. If done properly, the system reduces nearly 100 percent of water waste and has little impact on the local environment.

In most commercial examples of aquaponics, farmed fish species, like tilapia, are raised in large fish tanks located in close proximity to hydroponically grown plants. The wastewater from the fish tanks circulates through the roots of the plants typically with an ebb and flow system. Green Relief has combined it into a conventional hydroponic cannabis system.

As the water flows through the root systems of the crop, the plants absorb all the nutrients and minerals they need. The water eventually flushes back into the fish tanks, clean and ready for the next cycle. The fish, in turn, muddy the waters with nutrient dense waste as they eat and digest their food supply. Microorganisms convert the aquatic waste into a food source usable by the cannabis plants and the cycle continues, theoretically in perpetuity.

 

Green Relief Pushing the Envelope of Sustainable Cannabis Cultivation

Aquaponics requires substantial technical components, scientific understanding, and a comparatively high initial investment in infrastructure. As Green Relief's co-founder, Warren Bravo, recently explained to Herb “When we told people we were going to be growing cannabis using aquaponics, they said it was impossible.” Today, Bravo and his team have proved the naysayers wrong. They are not only flourishing in the medical cannabis sector, but plans are well underway for the construction of an additional 210,000 facility.

Their current annual capacity tops out at 2,700 kg of pesticide-free medical grade cannabis, but with their expansion, they expect to pump out 45,000 kg per year. Under Green Relief's current model, they are also producing tilapia, although it's a not-for-profit endeavor. Green Relief is in the business of medical marijuana, not fish farming. Green Relief donates all market-ready tilapia to a local food bank. By Bravo's estimation, they have provided over 25,000 meals to those in need.

 

Aquaponics, a Way to Reduce Water Consumption and Environmental Contamination

There are other benefits beyond feeding the needy to the cannabis aquaponic cultivation model. Bravo estimates their closed-loop system produces 90 percent less water waste than their competitors. On top of the water sustainability, an aquaponics system like theirs removes the need for chemical fertilizers and harmful fungicides.

Any chemicals added into the system could harm the tilapia, or alternately the cannabis crop. Aquaponics instead relies on the disease suppression of the natural environment, a diverse microbial environment which not only converts the fish waste into valuable plant nutrients but also prevents the spread of disease throughout the system as a whole. With recent industry-wide crackdown on pesticide use,  including Health Canada implementing mandatory testing requirements, pesticide-free cannabis is in hot demand.

Soon, Green Relief’s aquaponic cannabis will be available in markets around the world. In May 2018, Green Relief announced a joint venture with two leading cannabis countries in Europe, Ai Fame GmbH and Ai Lab Swiss AG. Its expected through this partnership that the aquaponic cultivation model pioneered in Hamilton, will spread into Europe. Green Relief is also expanding their production model at more of the national level, onto far-flung locations like Fogo Island Newfoundland, and British Columbia the heartland of the Canadian industry. Soon, if the rumors are true, Green Relief may even begin selling aquaponics home-starter kits to help home growers take the guesswork out of the technology.

Aquaponics for cannabis cultivation is no longer a scientific myth. Green Relief is not only commercially successful, it’s all while staying true to its core value to blend science with sustainability to produce clean, medical grade marijuana. The technology to combine sustainable farming with hydroponics is out there, and as the growing industry places more pressure on farmland and water tables, aquaponic systems will become an increasingly valuable method of production.

 

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