With more people living in urban settings than ever before, it can be difficult for them to find locally sourced food within their neighborhoods or even to find a plot of dirt in which to grow their own food. In this episode, we look at some different food growing options that don’t require a garden or even soil.

AquaponicsWe begin with aquaponics – a soil-less and water conserving form of agriculture where vegetables and fish are raised together. And later, we explore even smaller tabletop methods where herbs are grown using beta fish and gourmet mushrooms are grown in used coffee grounds. Yes, today it is all about thinking outside the planter box when it comes to growing fresh food.


In Chicago’s urban neighborhoods, outdoor space is hard to come by. Currently in cities like this, fresh food is either shipped in from far away or people must travel outside of the city to find it. Neither of these options helps the environment. Well, the good news is that it is actually possible to raise fresh produce and fish inside city buildings without soil or even sunlight. These systems not only grow a lot of food while treading lightly on the environment, they are also being used to educate others about sustainability and healthy foods.

Emmanuel Pratt, a visionary urban farmer and educator took the idea of Aquaponics to a whole new level. He co-founded the Sweet Water Foundation and founded the Chicago-based Mycelia Project – where his team built a farm inside a vacant shoe factory to not only provide fresh fish and veggies to Chicago’s south side, but to also serve as an educational center – teaching current and future generations about healthy food. His vision helped create new life in the Rust Belt, where people who are unemployed are able to use their skills to help grow their neighborhoods.

Tabletop Mushrooms:

Mushroom Kit

Mushroom Kits

In California, we found a similar movement, but with a new twist to the idea of small space food growing. We found a new company that teaches sustainability within 1 sq. foot of your kitchen counter space.

Alex Velez and Nikhil Arora, two young entrepreneurs determined to connect more people to their food. Together they started an urban farm company called Back to the Roots in Berkley, CA and it took them in a direction no one could ever imagine.

Two graduating business majors started trying to grow gourmet mushrooms in coffee grounds. This experiment took off and quickly grew into a full-blown business of selling home-based growing kits. What sets them apart even further is how that first kit developed into a whole line of small space growing options.

Tabletop Aquaponics from Back to the Roots

Tabletop Aquaponics from Back to the Roots

Here are some links related to the show:

Sweet Water Foundation

Mycelia Project

Back to the Roots

Recipe: Braised Leeks with Pan Seared Tilapia


Growing A Greener World is a national gardening series on Public Television that features organic gardening, green living and farm to table cooking. Each episode focuses on compelling and inspirational people making a difference through gardening. This gardening series covers everything from edible gardening and sustainable agriculture to seasonal cooking and preserving the harvest.

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  1. Liz says

    I’ve been aware of aquaponics for a while but I always assumed it was super complicated and not something I could ever manage in a small space- same with growing mushrooms! I’m actually super excited to research a little more. Keep up the great work!

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