Manzo Elementary School’s aquaponics farm includes two fish stock tanks and four plant beds.

Tucson’s aquaponics community will be in the spotlight when it hosts the Aquaponics Association’s third annual conference of tours, speakers, workshops and vendors.

The gathering later this week is titled “Aquaponics for All.”

“We have a pretty large aquaponics community in Tucson,” says Casey Townsend, one of the conference organizers and founder of the three-year-old Tucson AquaPonics Project.

Aquaponics is a method of growing plants and raising fish in one system. The term combines the words “hydroponics,” growing plants without soil, and “aquaculture,” or fish farming.

Fish add ammonia to the water in their pond or tank through their waste. That nutrient-rich water is pumped into the hydroponics area that grows the plants. The roots of the plants filter the water that then is pumped back into the fish habitat.

Workshops at the conference include tracks on aquaponics for community food production, commercial production and home gardening.

Keynote speakers are Joel Salatin, a Virginia author and full-time farmer of the family’s Polyface Inc., and Max Meyers, executive director of the Mendocino Ecological Learning Center in California. As a featured speaker, James R. Hollyer of the University of Hawaii, Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources will focus on food safety in aquaponics.

Another featured speaker is Gene Giacomelli, director of the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. He’ll explain why controlled environments are an economically viable and environmentally friendly way to produce food.

Local aquaponics gardeners will play other roles in the conference. Six of the 34 speakers and workshop leaders are Arizonans.

Friday’s tour will stop at the UA center, two businesses that sell aquaponics systems, Townsend’s private garden and Manzo Elementary School on Tucson’s west side.

Manzo students use the school’s two tilapia stock tanks and four growing beds for instruction as well as a food source.

“The system provides access to healthy produce and a living model of how an ecosystem works,” school counselor Moses Thompson says.

The school sells the plants and fish at its farmers market and to a local caterer.

“Our mission is to get as much of our produce into the neighborhood as possible,” Thompson says.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at