Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

Aquaponics Garden: Fish Poop in a Closed Loop

Photo caption: a prototype of the tabletop aquaponics system being tested by Back to the Roots Ventures.

When I last profiled BTTR Ventures (pronounced “better” and short for Back to the Roots) in Issue 24, their Berkeley-born mushroom kit project was just landing on Whole Foods shelves across the country. Co-founders Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez and the BTTR team went on to field praise from the likes of Oprah, Martha Stewart, and the White House for their sustainable, educational, and edible kits.But at the end of our chat, Nikhil hinted at a broader vision: “For us, it’s not really about mushrooms. We hope to inspire people to think about where their food comes from.”  

Looks like they’re expanding their curriculum. Before, it was [used coffee] + [spores] = oyster mushrooms.  Now it’s also [water] x (fish poo + fish pee) + seeds = basil + clean water!  It’s called the “Aquaponics Garden” -- a fish tank about the size of a toaster oven that circulates dirty yet nutrient-rich fish water to plant seeds, and the plants then filter clean water back down to Tuna Thurman, Roe Montana, or (insert fish name here). BTTR distinguishes this new kit from their signature mushroom box in that it aims to deliver a "full closed-loop ecosystem," teaching eaters and would-be gardeners about every step in a natural plant-animal growing cycle. The mushroom kit, in contrast, provided users with a pre-treated growing medium and just a few shots at growing a healthy herd of mushrooms. 

While the Aquaponics Garden covers more bases, can it match the success of their first and relatively simple product? It will be a challenge to keep costs low, source jobs locally, and find the right target market, but they’re up for the task.  Check out their Kickstarter page that launched last Thursday to learn more and see how the crowd weighs in. Despite the fact that they keep finding ways to grow practically anything from nothing, these guys always manage to stay hungry.

Feeding the fish, that feed the plant, that feed the human... 


Jeff Kang works with various K-12 educational organizations promoting smart uses of resources, technology and data. He received an MBA from the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business, and now lives in Washington, DC with his lovely wife and tiny dog.

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