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).

Whisper Farms:

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

Original video:
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Backyard aquaponics as self-sustained farm in (sub)urban LA

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  • Robbie Williams

    Brother, I love what you're doing. I live in riverside CA I would love to come check out your set up. Mainly because I am trying to do 2 IBC setup for aqua phonics in my back yard. I would tremendously appreciate the help. And I can even bring some red Asian Spnitch seeds to share with you. My name is Robbie my number is nine zero nine three seven nine three two one seven. Please reach out to me so I can soak up some information from you. Thank you.

  • Nacasu

    Tip: If you use bigger deeper water tanks for your fish and plants, then the water temperature stays more constant. The bigger the water mass, the longer it takes for temperature of the water to change, thus making it easier to manage, temperature wise.
    Making the amount of water in each tank, for fish and for plants larger, will also reduce the temperature impacted of the water flow between the tanks. Especially if you maintain two different temperatures for the fish and plants.

  • Michael Peacock

    composting bins and red wiggler worms and duckweed would seem to be more efficient than using meal minnows, i would think….

  • Thomas Rossetti

    excellent job Scott. I lived in SO. Cal for many years and have been in South East Asia. Thailand for over 20 and have decided to do Progressive Farming in Cambodia. One of the best presented videos I've seen. Hey, that Moringa. Good for Poultry, Rabbits and / or Tilapia?? Thanks

  • Mark Mai

    I am starting a aquaponics system in my backyard, and would like to ask Scott for some help in setting up the system. Do you have his contact information? Thanks, Mark

  • Kopenich

    Dude this is in Pasedena which is 10 minutes away from here! That's enough to inspire me to try and set up our house to do the same (on a much smaller scale of course.)

  • McGrew's Carpet cleaning oriental rug cleaning

    it looks like your doing good but just remember if the SHTF you will definitely need solar power or you fish will suffocate and the water will stagnate and the systems will fail …just a friendly suggestion…

  • sion pascal

    I'm doing this. I have no idea how, but I'm definitely going to watch this video several more times and do my research. thanks again Kirsten for supplying me with a wealth of information!

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