Author: Kate Wildrick

NC State Aquaponics Course March 7

North Carolina State University is hosting the annual North Carolina Aquaculture Conference in a few weeks. This year they are including a pre-conference aquaponics workshop on March 7. The Workshop features aquaponic experts Bradley Todd (Lucky Clay’s Fresh) and Huy Tran (Apopka Aquaponic Farms).

Find more information and signup here: https://jones.ces.ncsu.edu/2018/02/aquaponics-short-course/

Aquaponics Association Making a Presence at Aquaculture America

POSTED BY CLAUDIA ANDRACKI

The Aquaponics Association will have a booth at Aquaculture America in Las Vegas this coming week. Stop by and talk to one of our Directors and members that will be available to answer questions about the association. You will also have an opportunity to sign up as a member of the association with a special discount if you stop by our booth.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Reaching for Space!

POSTED BY CLAUDIA ANDRACKI

During our annual conference (Putting Down Roots) in Portland, OR, we had the privilege to have students from Meadow Park Middle School present their project on aquaponics and they have received the attention of NASA.

https://spacescience.arc.nasa.gov

Their video presentation can be seen on:

“One Step Closer to Mars With Aquaponics” on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/253348616?ref=em-share

Our team has worked hard to edit and make this video available for you.

USDA Reconfirms Organic Eligibility of Aquaponics

POSTED BY BRIAN FILIPOWICH

From the USDA 1/25/18:

“At its Fall 2017 public meeting, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) heard significant testimony about hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic operations. Given the extensive debate on this topic, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is posting this notice to clarify the status of these systems.

“Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program began. For these products to be labeled as organic, the operation must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and maintain compliance with the USDA organic regulations.

“The NOSB has recommended prohibiting aeroponic systems in organic production. USDA will consider this recommendation; aeroponics remains allowed during this review.”

Ryan’s Aquaponic Trailer

POSTED BY BRIAN FILIPOWICH

Putting Down Roots Journal #5

A highlight of the Putting Down Roots conference was Ryan Crist’s aquaponic trailer in the vendor showroom.

This trailer holds a fully functional aquaponic system complete with pumps, fans, sensors, and controllers for automation. It has minimal power needs due to a battery bank and renewable energy sources.

Ryan built the aquaponic trailer with a “Best Prototype” grant for a system able to grow plants in arid climates.

Growing Community in Oklahoma

Putting Down Roots Journal #4

By Andres Kwart

Kaben Smallwood gave a heart-felt speech at the Putting Down Roots conference that left me (and those around me) with feelings of awe and inspiration. His views on community, education, and sustainability are extremely positive and necessary in modern day American society.

Part Native American, Kaben carries his beliefs about the “7th generation” into his everyday life. He believes in triple bottom line companies, which better the community and the Earth and still make a profit. His company, Symbiotic Aquaponic, has created opportunities in so many Oklahoma communities, like the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Kiowa Public Schools. In fact, Kaben and his brother, Shelby, have received offers to install their systems in numerous academic and social communities within Oklahoma, and have continued to spread around the country. It’s no coincidence that this company became popular quickly; they care about educating their customers before selling to them, they provide excellent customer service, and they design solid aquaponic systems. Kudos to these guys, and I hope they continue to prosper and spread their systems around the world.

Putting Down Aquaponic Roots Into the Food System

Putting Down Roots Journal #3

By Brandon Youst
Bootstrap Farmer

The highlight of the Putting Down Roots conference, in my mind, was a panel led by Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish Company and Andre Uribe, Executive Chef at Bon Appetit and Willamette University.  They shared these tips to help commercial aquaponic growers:

  • Make logistics easy for the chefs and your customers in all ways that you can. Simple payment systems, simple packaging, bunching for easy processing, and if appropriate- washed and clean produce.

 

  • If you plan on working with any large distributor, you’ll very likely find yourself needing/wanting to get an organic certification so you can get the wholesale prices you’ll need for a premium product.
  • Chefs and procurement managers will pay more for produce, but only if the QUALITY and STORY is there. Consumers want fresh, local produce, but not if it looks like crap.  They also want to know where it came from, and even want to know who you are and what you’re about.  Technology is allowing consumers looking to connect with their farmers and your story is how you, or the chefs cooking with your produce, can do that.

I SAW THESE AS THE CRITICAL FACTORS NEEDED TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL AQUAPONICS BUSINESS:

  1. EDUCATION
    It’s never been ‘easier’ to start an aquaponics business than it is now.  Not to say it’s easy, because it’s not, BUT at least now we have proven systems you can learn from.  It’s obvious to everyone in the industry that the biggest failures come from those who haven’t taken the time to learn from others that have done it before.  YouTube learning does not count here.  If you’re not willing to invest $1000-$5000 to educate yourself via on farm-trainings and direct consulting, you definitely shouldn’t start an aquaponics business.  In fact, that principle applies to MOST serious business endeavors
  2. NICHE PRODUCT
    Businesses everywhere are being built on providing an ever deeper array of niche products.  Aquaponics is perfect to meet this desire.  From a unique way to source fish, grow tomatoes, cannabis or specialty herbs, the possibilities are endless. Why try and compete with everyone else for the same product?  Aquaponics allows you to market an endless variety of products, standing apart from your competition.
  3. RELATIONSHIPS
    Aquaponics is unique and you are unique.  We can connect with customers in ways that large corporations will never be able to match.  By connecting with your customers with an authentic human experience, you’ll be engaging in a relationship that won’t have the price as the most important concern.  This applies to all businesses but it’s especially true for farmers – the relationships you build with those such as chefs or CSA customers are absolutely critical to your business.
  4. LOCAL MARKET STRATEGY
    This is highly important and perhaps not discussed enough, even though it seems obvious.  Your. Local. Market. Matters.  It really should determine the rest of your approach before you spend a dime.  Know your market BEFORE you start an aquaponics business.  What works for Ryan Chatterson is not what would work for Tanya Sawyer because their markets are completely different.  Understand that first, and plan the rest around what’s possible within the limitations (or possibilities) in your particular market.  Clearly, aquaponics can work anywhere, so it’s not really about whether aquaponics is viable, it’s about strategy and execution.

THOUGHTS ON STARTING AN AQUAPONICS BUSINESS

I think most commercial aquaponic farmers will agree with the following advice:

You’ve got a real opportunity here, but, start small and learn first.  Your first batch of fish will have a premature death.  Only once you’re dialed in on your home system should you even consider thinking you’re ready to go commercial.  Even with that, it’s crucial to leverage the skills and systems from those who’ve done it successfully.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  There will be time to tinker & experiment, but that should be so far secondary to a proven model when starting out.

There are many more topics I touched on that we will explore perhaps in a later post. For now, it feels good to know the industry is being led by many great people doing many amazing things.

Till next time…

Brandon Youst
FounderBootstrap Farmer

(This is the second of two posts from Brandon Youst. Read the entire article here: Putting Down Aquaponic Roots Into the Food System.)

Commercial Thoughts from the Bootstrap Farmer

Putting Down Roots Journal #2

By Brandon Youst
Bootstrap Farmer

My visit to the 2017 Putting Down Roots Aquaponics Association Conference in Portland Oregon has me thinking about a few things…

Many of us on the ‘outside’ of the aquaponics industry have been wondering when (or if) this method of growing is ever going to hit the mainstream consumer market in a big way.

I had more basic questions I still didn’t have fully answered – ‘Was aquaponics currently viable on a small to medium scale?  Is the idea of the mom and pop aquaponics shop realistic?’  

Not just that, but I wanted to find PROFITABLE aquaponic businesses running for several years WITHOUT relying on farm tours for income.   And by no means is this a shot at those that do tours & education, but, in order to be replicable & scalable to thousands of new farm entrepreneurs, it needs to PROVE it can work without tours/education in SOME locations first.

Over time, we (as in ‘the market’) will find the models that work in comparable local economies. Only then can we rinse and repeat these systems in the way all franchises do.  Once a model can be proven with relative success, wider access to business loans for an aquaponic farm will become available, then boom- the industry takes off.

THE CONFERENCE…

We got to see both a budding and an established farm in the morning, and got to learn from industry leaders during afternoon breakout sessions.  Equally as interesting were the times in between sessions where everyone chatted and shared personal projects and ambitions. Several countries were represented where enthusiasts, business owners and educators involved in variety of projects all had the opportunity to learn from and network with each other.

My first thought about the conference overall is that it’s encouraging to know there are so many good people doing so many great things.  There is clearly a legion of aquaponic teachers around the world that are establishing themselves as skilled mentors teaching the next generation of farmers.  While the industry isn’t as far along as I would’ve hoped it would be in a commercial/mainstream sense, that’s only perhaps due to my impatience from knowing it’s potential to benefit the world.

High-quality teachers have been running aquaponics training courses for a while now and many of them were on hand (including the great Murray Hallam!). It was pretty obvious to an ‘outsider’ like me, everyone here is doing their bit to get aquaponics commercially thriving to the point where we can see aquaponics farms in all parts of the no matter the local economy.

IS AQUAPONICS TRULY COMMERCIALLY VIABLE?

This is what I was most interested in learning about at this conference, and it did not disappoint. I found examples of businesses working in aquaponics from almost every angle.  Here are just a few examples:

Kaben Smallwood of Symbiotic Aquaponics might be the best example to demonstrate why it takes time to establish a solid aquaponics business in such a young industry.  By repeatedly reinvesting into improving his enclosed system for the last several years, Kaben has been able to develop what has now become a very ingenious simple and scalable aquaponics system for educational or business use.  Now communities all over Oklahoma are now participating in the benefits from his years of tinkering.

Traveling from Canada was Christopher Hatch of the Mississauga Food Bank where, nestled inside the warehouse, is AquaGrow Farms, a 500 square foot urban aquaponic farm.  This awesome organization provides food for over 244,000 meals each month through a network of 48 member agencies.  Aquaponics doesn’t need to be 100% of the equation, but it can certainly be part of it.  Christopher, the leader of this organization, wouldn’t consider himself a ‘farmer’, but what he is able to do, in part by using aquaponics, has allowed him to leverage funding in ways that will have a positive impact on the aquaponics industry and his community far beyond the food bank.

Then there’s Ryan Chatterson of Chatterson Farms, who seems to have nailed the aquaponics business model in his economically stable area and is now scaling it appropriately to his big thinking and big restaurant base outside of the Orlando area.   As well as having proven an almost immediate success in his own locality, he’s spent the last few years helping other aquaponics farmers around the world get established using his proven system.  When one successful business can be replicated into another, this industry can take one giant step towards standardization, making business loans more accessible.

One last example is Tanya Sawyer of Colorado Aquaponics, who has been building an aquaponics business in a food desert in Denver, CO for several years now.  In her presentation, she talked about The Growhaus , which has become the model example of how to make aquaponics work, even in one of the most disadvantaged parts of the United States.

Different locations require their own types of relationships and partners. The Growhaus works with the local community in about a hundred different ways, such as utilizing community grants and volunteers.  Tayna’s client base is way different than Ryan’s so she is here showing and telling everyone how it’s done and how to make it work in even some of the toughest situations.  My first real look at an aquaponics business was several years ago at Tanya & JD Sawyers training, which was eye-opening, to say the least. Seeing that as the only example at the time, it felt too risky for me to go commercial and I went a different direction.

(This is the first of two posts from Brandon Youst. Read the entire article here: Putting Down Aquaponic Roots Into the Food System.)

Aquaponics at the Mississauga Food Bank

Putting Down Roots Journal #1

By Andres Kwart

Christopher Hatch and Colin Cotton gave a fantastic presentation at the Putting Down Roots conference on behalf of the Mississauga Food Bank. Located in Canada, Mississauga has a very diverse population that prioritizes fresh, healthy food over heavily processed rubbish.

Colin, a recent college graduate, is a newly acquired member of the Food Bank team. It seems that he has really pulled his weight in terms of getting the Food Bank to produce some of its own food. In charge of the aquaponics operations, Colin has learned a lot in order for the food bank to be more self-reliant.

Christopher is the Executive Director of the Mississauga Food Bank and seems excited and optimistic about the future. A few years ago, Christopher realized the Food Bank needed to start producing its own food, and he soon came across aquaponics and was hooked. He hired Colin and the team has been tackling aquaponics for about year or so, and have recently been toying with the idea of scaling up a great deal. They have started small, learned from professionals, and now they want to expand. How much energy would be required to aquaponically grow fresh lettuce for all food bank recipients? Is it financially worth it?

We hope to see these guys again next year, and perhaps with a more advanced system under their belts. Best of luck to these positive and ambitious members of the Mississauga Food Bank!

Putting Down Roots Photos

POSTED BY BRIAN FILIPOWICH

We had a great time in Portland, OR last week at the Putting Down Roots Conference. Here’s a large group photo of everyone at the conference, and a photo of the presenters below.

Over 170 guests attended the full three-day conference, and over 50 more attended with single day passes. Over 10 countries were represented.

Stay tuned for content highlights from the conference, as well as an announcement for where we’ll be in Fall 2018!

 

 

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