Saving the world with fish poo: Kickstarter campaign brings aquaponics to the public

Citizen scientists can help experts understand how society can feed a growing world population by fertilising food with fish poo through a pioneering Kickstarter campaign launched today (19 September 2016).

The WeGrow.Social team at the University of Sheffield has teamed up with Humble By Nature, a working farm and rural skills centre owned by broadcaster Kate Humble and her husband Ludo Graham, to help people set up their own Resilience Food Farms – using waste from fish as a fertiliser for vegetables.

The process is known as aquaponics, combining hydroponics (growing vegetables in water) and aquaculture (growing fish). The fish produce ammonia, which is translated into nitrates by beneficial bacteria. The plants remove the nitrates, at the same time filtering and cleaning the water, so that it can be continuously recycled.

Aquaponics is a sustainable way of farming food: using very few inputs to produce a wide range of healthy crops all year round. This high density and low-impact method may be seen as a positive alternative to mass production, factory farming and air miles.

The Kickstarter campaign aims to help the WeGrow.Social team raise £23,000 to develop their aquaponics and data recording systems. Contributors can benefit by receiving instructions, components and training that will allow them to grow and manage their own aquaponics system.

By backing WeGrow, contributors can get:

  • The Knowledge. For £10 they get a complete recipe book to DIY their own clean food; for £220 a two-day course taught by Aquaponics UK at Kate Humble's teaching farm.
  • The Electronics. Backers join WeGrow’s citizen science community with the WaterElf, and control their aquaponics over the net (from £128 to £195).
  • The Aquaponics. A complete aquaponics system in sizes to fit a kitchen table, a standard greenhouse or a large greenhouse (from £250 to £5,000).

Each system comes with a WaterElf – a piece of electronics that records what the local conditions are and connects users to a community of growers gathering data for citizen science.

The more people join in, the more experts can find out about how aquaponics works best in our climate, how much food it produces and how much it costs.

Professor Hamish Cunningham, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, said: “Sustainable agriculture is about feeding ourselves without destroying the soil or using up fossil fuels — but in many ways we’ve blown it. This means we need to think more about resilience, our capacity to withstand shocks and changes.”

He added: “We need to grow food in more places – for example, in the nooks and crannies of cities and towns.

“The more we can meet our basic needs like food and energy in our local communities, the more resilient those communities become – and the less scarce the resources we use in the process, the more sustainable our lifestyles become.”

Kate Humble, owner of Humble by Nature, said: “I am delighted that Humble by Nature are partnering with the University of Sheffield and Aquaponics UK to share knowledge and information about aquaponics. Supporting the WeGrow Kickstarter campaign will give you a fantastic opportunity to learn more about this sustainable food production method.”

In June, a group of students at the University opened a Resilience Food Farm on campus as part of Achieve More 10bn – a pioneering initiative by the University where second year undergraduates from across all Faculties came together to explore the challenges the world will face as the population reaches 10 billion.

The students are growing leafy greens such as chard, lettuce, rocket and sorrel, and experimenting with broad beans, strawberries and leeks, to test the aquaponics system as a method for producing sustainable food for the future.

To find out more about the Kickstarter campaign, visit:

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046