Cal Poly Lecture Series: Urban farming & aquaponics

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Andrew Rosenstein, founder of EVO Farm, spoke on Wednesday at the College of Environmental Design. He was the first of seven speakers in the Fall Lecture Series hosted by the college. He presented a slide show while speaking on the topics of urban farming and aquaponics.

Rosenstein began his lecture describing the background of aquaponics.

“Aquaponics merges two well-established industries: aqua culture, which is fish farming, and hydroponics, which is growing food in water,” said Rosenstein.

His company sets out to provide realistic ways to help people get into urban farming and aquaponics. Rosenstein utilizes his knowledge to educate others while also helping people set up his vision of urban farming systems that he considers his “dream farms”.

“My work now as a consultant is to help build farms for other people who have the financial resources to build my dream farms,” said Rosenstein. “My dream farms are really capital intensive.”

Rosenstein found his path to urban farming through driving a truck carrying vegetables seven days a week.

“It began 15 years ago when I was a truck driver in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Rosenstein. “I was able to see how we harvested our food and how we treated the people who did the harvesting. That was the most difficult job I ever had, I spent around 116 hours a week driving to and from the San Joaquin Valley.”

He took the next step in his career in urban farming by producing a series for PBS, while also starting to work on his own farming system.

“When we broke ground on our first system in Mar Vista in West [Los Angeles], it was the time when my wife and I first started talking about starting a family,” said Rosenstein. “I was working full-time doing film production on a documentary, I had a salary, and I had a window office.”

Rosenstein was starting a career with PBS and had everything he could ask for, but was not satisfied.

“I was getting paid to do research, to travel, and to write stories on people who are out there taking responsibility by being the change,” said Rosenstein. “While it was a dream job, it was also the most depressing point in my life because I would come home every night knowing that humans had no chance of survival on this planet.”

Knowing there was an end in sight, Rosenstein received some motivation that came from the birth of his child.

“It renewed my sense for the future that while we are on a trajectory for ending all life as we know it, there's a chance to change that,” said Rosenstein. “Our son is growing up and he is following in the footsteps of his father. “

Family life had Rosenstein motivated and he wanted to learn more about what he could do to help the planet.

“My wife and son go out to the back yard to feed the fish and just the other day we planted an artichoke,” said Rosenstein. “It became imperative for my own sanity, that I step out into the world and be one of those people whom I was filming while traveling the country.”

Rosenstein is instituting change in multiple facets around the Los Angeles area.

“I have a class that I teach called, The Art and Science of Aquaponics,” said Rosenstein. “I teach that class four times a year. I also have my product line of nano farms coming out soon.”

Rosenstein takes his class to various high schools in the area to educate people on growing their own food.

“I have taught the classes at different schools and we do field trips to farms,” said Rosenstein. “My last class was at Environmental Charter High School, that is a South LA school. I don't have a permanent home yet, but it is a mixture of classroom and going out into the field to learn hands-on.”

He has one specific goal in mind in helping the next generation to learn about urban farming.

“My dream is to put an aquaponics system in every school,” said Rosenstein. “It's just the beginning, we have a long way to go.”

James Becerra, a part-time lecturer for the College of Environmental Design, is the person behind the Fall Lecture Series.

“Lectures are very important,” said Becerra. “They supplement and enhance the conventional part of the curriculum. These lectures will bring an opportunity to build on what students have learned in class. It's an opportunity for students to hear what's going on inside and outside the community.”

Becerra anticipates that these series of speakers will be well received by the students.

“Hopefully, it's an opportunity for students to have a sense of validation, that their education will be applicable and helpful to society, ” said Becerra.

Jimmy Ta, a fourth-year landscape architecture student and a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), helped put together this lecture.

“Even though this is not directly related to landscape architecture I felt that there is some connection between how we could build these systems that relate to our food and [how] we can also expand into different disciplines,” said Ta.

Rosenstein provided a hopeful thought into what people can think about while considering urban farming.

“Food is the common thread that could solve all the world's problems,” said Rosenstein. “And the first act you take to grow your own food is the most liberating feeling.”



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