LIVING fish will feed growing crops with their poo at Oxfordshire's first ever aquaponic farm.

Business partners Ali Nicholson and Oliver O'Dell are trying to raise £30,000 to launch their business, and enthusiastic funders have already pledged £20,000.

At their fish-powered farm, leafy plants such as lettuce, pak choi and chard will be grown in water.

That water will be pumped from fish tanks containing live African tilapia fish, and will be full of nutrients from the fish waste.

The plants will absorb the nutrients and clean the water, which is then returned to the fish.

The pair describe aquaponics as 'the oldest form of farming in the world' and say it is 'completely environmentally friendly'.

Smart Greens CEO Mr O'Dell, who lives in Longcot, said: "Aquaponics is the most environmental way to grow food and dates back hundreds of years.

"It doesn't need any chemicals or fertilisers and reduces water usage by up to 97 per cent compared to traditional horticulture.

"Not only that, but it will it give us an amazingly productive means of growing on a small area that will bring in enough income for us to be financially independent – relatively unusual for a small social enterprise."

The entrepreneurs are also planning to use their farm as an educational centre for adults and children across Oxfordshire.

Ms Nicholson, who lives in Bletchingdon, said: "Aquaponics, as a food technology, will provide us with an amazing outreach opportunity to go into schools and communities to combine practical learning from so many different subjects.

"We can introduce everything from life science and healthy eating to engineering and mathematics in a fun and immersive way – and we can feed you."

Although it might sound like they are diving in at the deep end, they are already big fish in their own pond.

The pair have been growing organic fruit and veg at their farm near Oxford for the past five years – with the help of prisoners.

Operating as Spring Hill CIC and using Big Lottery funding, they helped support rehabilitation of inmates from an open prison, growing produce for a range of businesses and customers and trying to improve the diets of the prison population along the way.

Ms Nicholson said: "We always wanted to further our environmental credentials and to better engage younger people – aquaponics is the perfect solution."

The duo tout aquaponics particularly as an intelligent way of farming for a growing urban population without damaging the environment.

Their idea follows hot on the heels of another enterprising and environmentally-minded couple who set up Oxford's first ever mushroom farm in an old shipping container on Hinksey Heights Golf Club in September.

With the cash raised through their crowdfunding campaign, Smart Greens are planning to buy two new shipping containers to house the fish, plumbing and 'propagation area', a large polytunnel, fish tanks and solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint even more.

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