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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Aquaponics grows in Tucson with EcoGro

Rebecca Noble
Owner Brendan Woltman mists air plants shortly before closing for the evening at EcoGro on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. EcoGro opened in April of 2012 and plans to open two more locations in Tucson within the next year.

With organic produce prices rising and GMOs and pesticides becoming a concern to some consumers, demand for organic and simple gardening is growing. For Tucson locals, EcoGro offers a solution.

EcoGro is an aquaponics supply store and exotic plant nursery located at 657 W. Saint Mary’s Road. The store’s owner, Brendan Woltman, opened shop in April 2012 after quitting his accounting job in Flagstaff and moving to Tucson. Since then, he has provided a farming alternative to the community.

The main attraction of EcoGro is that the store is a resource for aquaponics. This is a gardening system where waste from farmed fish provides nutrients for plants and the plants purify the water that the fish live in.  

“It’s the most sustainable way to grow,” Woltman said. “You don’t have to add any fertilizers, and there’s no manual input besides adding water and feeding your fish.”

RELATED: Urban agriculture: feeding the future

When asked about the benefits of an aquaponics system over traditional gardening or going to the grocery store, Woltman said aquaponics is truly organic and there are no additives besides the fish waste.

He added that with an aquaponics system, it is possible to grow produce two to three times more densely than a regular garden, while using a small fraction of the amount of water. 

He said it is environmentally friendly because there is no need for fertilizer or animal by-product, and it’s a great way to ensure that your produce is free of pesticides and GMOs.

Woltman and his team at EcoGro see customers of all different backgrounds come to their warehouse. The business attracts plant enthusiasts who come for their supply of exotic plants that are usually grown in countries like Madagascar and Saudi Arabia. The store also sees a lot of backyard gardeners seeking to switch to a system like aquaponics. 

EcoGro also works with surrounding school districts to provide students resources and education about aquaponics and sustainable gardening. UA’s Master Gardener program has shown an interest in aquaponics.

“We were talking with EcoGro about creating an aquaponics educational feature for our demonstration gardens here on the [Pima County] extension campus,” said Eric Johnson, a Master Gardener program coordinator. “We are very excited about the possibility of bringing this kind of gardening to the public.”

RELATED: Student Union to hold contest for rooftop garden design

Through his work, Woltman has become a leader in aquaponics education in Tucson. He plans on teaching a class for the Master Gardener program once a month on sustainable gardening and aquaponics, since it is a relatively new concept. EcoGro also has aquaponics systems set up at Biosphere 2, and Woltman frequently visits there and gives lectures.

Woltman’s favorite part of his job is working for himself and employing people who have a real passion for plants.

Woltman is looking to expand his store and nursery into a full-scale growing company. He sees EcoGro as his pride and joy and doesn’t plan on selling it outside of his family. 

“I’ve been in the gardening industry for a long time, and a lot of people are realizing what it truly means to be sustainable and trying to live off the grid,’” he said.

When considering a new way to get your veggies, visit EcoGro, located at an industrial warehouse adjacent to the freeway with endless rows of plants and two sleepy shop dogs waiting to greet you.

EcoGro offers a 10 percent discount to UA students with a CatCard. For more information about EcoGro, visit

Follow Kathleen Kunz on Twitter.

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