Scott Henley wanted to prove he could turn the backyard of his modest Pasadena (Los Angeles) home into a working farm. To turn his 8000-square-foot backyard into a productive farm, Henley turned to aquaponics- a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics: "This is a very efficient way to grow things in a small space. And it also produces a protein source."

He farms tilapia because they breed fast. The fish waste is broken down in the water by naturally-occurring bacteria into nitrate. The plants take up the nitrates as food and the now-cleaned water is fed back to the fish and the process begins again. The only inputs are sunlight and fish food. It's an inherently organic system because any pesticides would upset the natural balance of the small ecosystem.

After less tha 2 years in operation (he started in the summer of 2012), he- through Whisper Farms- now sells enough produce to restaurants, CSAs and at the local (Altadena) farmer's market- to cover all costs and produce a small profit. His "experiment" is still not productive enough to create a salary, but he hopes that will change once he's able to sell his fish and create more of a cooperative setup with other farms (to reduce the permitting costs for selling at farmers' markets).

Filmed by Johnny Sanphillippo — more of his stories about urbanism, adaptation & resilience:

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  1. What was the name of that 15 foot plant with 38-39% protein? I have been
    trying to search for “beringa”, “baringa”, etc. with no luck.

  2. Nice. It’s gonna be tough in Pasadena because it’s so expensive. Also,
    historically, there have been communities with gardeners, egg co-ops, etc.
    in the LA area. I remember we had an egg co-op in the 70s. The thing is,
    these weren’t rich or even middle class communities. These were working
    class suburban communities.

  3. That is awesome sunstainble urbarn farming is the way to go. Even good if
    you can make a living our off it. Most people have not clue where their
    food comes from. A lot of restaurant chefs are also going local.