Jessica McKeil   |   January 29, 2019

Closed Loop Aquaponics Provides More than Clean Cannabis

Green Relief's waste-free, closed-loop aquaponics system saves water and feeds the hungry.
Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer based in British Columbia, Canada. She has a passion for cannabis tech and scientific breakthroughs, which has led her to work with some of the industry's biggest brands. She is the owner and lead-writer…

The cannabis industry is, in a large part, struggling to manage its ecological footprint. The wastewater, contaminated soil, and the reliance on chemical fertilizers have an enormous impact on the local environment. Some may argue, an impact on the quality and purity of the product itself. It is in this landscape, where Green Relief is disrupting traditional approaches to cannabis cultivation. In partnership with Rafterra Global, Green Relief is the only licensed cannabis producer using the power of aquaponics to their advantage.

In their future-forward facility in Flamborough, Ontario, the company is proving that cannabis production can have a much different impact on the local community and the environment around them. This unique partnership combining hydroponic indoor growing techniques, aquaponic systems, and medical marijuana cultivation is the first of its kind in the world.

Green Relief has made some significant moves over the last six months, and in all likelihood, these big plays will continue to roll out as they near completion of their latest property acquisition. Their current bunker-style facility in Flamborough has approximately 30,000 square feet of growing space. In December 2018, the company announced its addition of a second facility, this time of 100,000 square feet in Stony Brook, Ontario. Once complete, their output will go from under 3,000 kg annually to 17,800 kg - nearly six times their current annual production.

In 2018, the company also announced its purchase of a majority stake of Bodhi Research and Development (to be renamed Green Relief Innovations), bringing an extensive research and development team into the fold, who will focus on producing “an innovative suite of cannabis-based medical products to serve a growing nutraceutical market.” This approach, focused on innovation and expansion, is stacking the chips in their favor for market domination, as they become a household name in the country.

Their business report card is filled with A+s from the last six months of 2018, but it’s their one-of-a-kind aquaponics model which forms the basis of it all. There are two key components to their growing method which reduce conventional operational costs in cannabis cultivation and stay true to their eco-friendly model - a nearly wasteless system and reliance on fish as fertilizer.

Almost Entirely Waste Free Cannabis Farming

Every component in the Green Relief aquaponics system is natural, meaning when there is waste (excess fish waste as an example), it’s easily worked back into the land surrounding the facility through a composting process. Nothing goes to the landfill.

As of 2019, the closed loop system has been reusing the same water for over two years. They've designed a system teaming with mutually beneficial microorganisms, often referred to as a living water system. The organisms get to work cleaning waste, providing nourishment to plants, and keeping the entire system in functional.

Cannabis cultivation is famously bad for local water resources, but Green Relief and Rafterra operate with a system which reduces water waste by 90 percent. Everything gets recycled back into the garden, with less than 10 percent loss through normal evaporations.

Fish as Fertilizer in a Closed Loop System

Fertilizer is one of the most substantial expenditures for a grower, right behind the power bill. It’s a non-renewable resource, requiring constant resupply and depending on cultivation method, producing considerable waste. In an aquaponics system, traditional fertilizers are swapped out for an ecologically friendly, and entirely renewable one. Fish become the only fertilizer the system requires, and for Green Relief, tilapia is the fish of choice.

The waste product from the roughly 6,000 tilapias swimming around in Green Relief’s closed-loop system, flushes through biofilters filled with a specific soup of microorganisms. Over time, the waste becomes plant fuel, which then feeds back into the hydroponic reservoirs, and eventually to the cannabis plants themselves. The entire system is engineered to require little if any additional input, besides the fish food, which is itself designed for aquaponic use. The fish food promotes specific nutrient characteristics within the final natural fertilizer product.

Green Relief’s tilapia farm not only removes the waste and economic costs of commercially sold fertilizers, but it has a secondary and equally as important role within the local community. As the fish age-out of the system, they are harvested, processed and donated to Second Harvest, a Toronto area food bank. Each fish lands the company a $12 tax write off, essentially creating a fertilizing system which pays for itself while giving back to those in need.

A look back over Green Relief’s year is a reel of highlights: incorporating in a well-established research and development team into their gold and tripling their canopy are only the top hits. If they can continue to practice the waste-free, community supported aquaponics model as they build bigger and better facilities, they will stand head and shoulders above most other licensed producers in Canada.


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