How a farm in Pennsylvania is using fish to grow basil

Farm uses technique called aquaponics to grow their herbaceous crop

CHEYNEY, Penn. – A farm that has been around for almost two decades is using a unique technique to grow its crop of basil.

Family-run Herban Farms, on the campus of Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, has a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse filled with hundreds of the savory plant, but they aren’t planted in the ground. Instead, the plants float on top of pools that are connected to a tank where hundreds of fish swim. The fish produce nutrients that are used to feed the basil plants.

It’s a process known as aquaponics. As the name would suggest, it’s a system that combines agriculture with hydroponics.

"I think it’s a new, untapped resource, especially with the younger demographic," said Andrew German, managing partner at Herban Farms. "The changes in technology and infrastructure allow us to grow something in a confined space.

Students at the university help with growing the plants. The facility also offers hands-on experiences for kids to learn how aquaponics works.

"I think with this new and up-and-coming generations that they’re going to take advantage of this, with locally-grown produce right at their fingertips," German said.

The farm sells about 10,000 bags of basil a week to more than 150 grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.