How is it possible for Ranch Foods Direct to sell locally grown beautiful butterhead bibb lettuce (right) during the coldest days of winter?

Emerge Aquaponics, located near Black Forest, grows the lettuce using one of the most advanced sustainable production methods in the agricultural world today. You’ve heard of hydroponics, where plants are grown in water rather than in soil? Aquaponics takes that a step further by integrating fish into the system.

Here’s how it works: The water to grow the plants is pumped from a large fish tank that contains tilapia. The fish naturally fertilize the water so that no additional additives are needed to feed the plants, which in turn draw the nutrients they need from the water and filter it, so that when it returns to the fish tank it is clean enough to make an ideal environment for raising more fish. This symbiotic system between plants and fish uses less water than conventional hydroponics because the water is continuously being recycled. In addition, the greenhouse can grow about seven times more lettuce than “dirt farming” would yield on the same space. As a leader in developing the aquaponics model, Emerge is helping to set up similar systems worldwide.