By Dave Crawley

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In the shadow of Fifth Avenue Place in Downtown Pittsburgh, a new structure foretells a breakthrough in mid-city farming.

Project founder Vinh Luong calls it an aquaponics farm.

“A big display piece for sustainable urban agriculture, and a source of fresh and local urban produce,” he announced at a Wednesday news conference.

University of Pittsburgh design and architecture students created the blueprint for the two-story structure, funded by a $10,000 grant from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Betaburgh program.

“This serves as a source for fresh produce, as well as educational and research purposes,” Luong explained.

He said it’s a combination fish and produce farm.

“So this is a 400-gallon fish tank, and we’ll have about 100, 150 fish in here,” he says.

Waste material from fish eventually passes through tubes to plants on the roof.

“With aquaponics, we’re able to grow plants without soil,” Luong said. “What we do is we feed them this water that the fish have excreted waste into. Through natural biological processes, ammonium is converted into nitrates, which is actually plant food.”

He says the process uses 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture.

“The plants are put into these, and the foam tubes are designed to hold a specific amount of water,” Luong said.

Plants filter the water, which is then pumped back into the fish tank.

“We’re able to grow 30 plants with every 1.5 square feet with these towers,” he added, indicating a series of tubes on the roof.

That’s a grand total of 1,200 vegetable plants.

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