Building a Food Oasis in a Pandemic

College of Science and Mathematics

Food deserts

Many neighborhoods across the country lack a key component: a local grocery store. For many Savannahians, food insecurity is a daily reality – one the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. “Food deserts” are areas, often urban and low-income, where fresh, nutritional food is not readily accessible, especially for those without vehicles. Food insecurity is a challenge for 13.2% of Chatham and 15.6% of Bulloch counties’ 61,700 people, according to Feeding America’s 2018 survey. In some neighborhoods, the only readily available food is from convenience stores.

One solution is to bring food production back to the local level. The Sustainable Aquaponics Research Center’s (SARC) 4,100-square-foot greenhouse on the Armstrong Campus facilitates this research, including ways to implement localized, self-sufficient farming systems. Can aquaponics help revitalize some of the food deserts in Savannah?

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics is the union of aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaculture farms fish, but traditionally requires large inputs of water and generates wastewater that must be dealt with properly. Hydroponics grows plants without soil, requiring large amounts of fertilizer. Aquaponics combines the two into a single closed-loop system by using fish waste as fertilizer for the plants, and using the plants to clean the water for the fish. This combination creates a functional, constructed ecosystem that reduces water use and pollution.

How aquaponics helps during a pandemic

SARC facilitates research in sustainable agriculture. Food deserts and supply chains broken by COVID-19 can be replaced with local self-sufficiency within communities. Since the pandemic began, SARC has donated excess chard, kale, chives, and lettuce to Second Harvest, a local food bank, and Savannah restaurants like Pounce and Spudnik that provided meals to homeless members of the community and their pets. Aquaponics can bring relief to local food deserts, by putting a food oasis in our backyards.

— Brigette Brinton, Curator of SARC Aquaponics