Articles

Putting Up Shoots Perspective from the Host

Perspective on the Aquaponics Association’s September, 2018 Conference in Hartford, CT

By Spencer Curry

I’ve been a member of the Aquaponics Association ever since the Denver conference in 2012 and have been to four conferences since then.  Back in 2012, I only had a basic desktop setup going. In fact, I returned from the conference to find that my little desktop system had flooded while I was away, soaking my bed in fish water.  That was just a small setback compared to the wealth of information and overwhelming feeling of community I found with the Aquaponics Association.

I still vividly remember workshops with Murray Hallam, Glenn Martinez, Rob Torcellini, and Max Meyers, and incredible conversations with more people than I could list here.  At the time, I had only experienced aquaponics through a few YouTube videos, so I felt like I had entered a whole new world with a wealth of information to be explored.

My partners and I took our inspiration from the conference and have been hard at work ever since, culminating in the incredible honor of hosting the 2018 Putting Up Shoots conference in my home state of Connecticut.  We grew from a small desktop setup to running a 3,500 sq. ft. indoor controlled environment aquaponics farm and building/servicing systems for dozens of clients around the state. However, with all of the hubbub behind hosting a conference, it didn’t hit me until the end of the first tour we gave during the 2018 conference just how far we have come as a company and as an industry since 2012.  Being able to showcase our creation to all of the people who have influenced, advised, and mentored us for the past six years will remain among the proudest moments of my life.

It also became apparent that we are not alone, nor unique, within the industry.  We had many conversations over the weekend that felt like talking with ourselves from 6 years in the past.  This industry is attracting more and more brilliant, inspired, and action oriented minds to help make our food system as awesome as we all know it can be.  This is so exciting to see because this industry needs more skilled people to make it flourish!

It is such an exciting time to be part of the aquaponics industry.  To all the people thinking about getting started with aquaponics, my recommendation is this: go to the conference.  Meet as many people as possible. Find those you resonate with and take action to get growing! All of us remember what it was like to be starting out, flooding bedrooms, basements and greenhouses. We love to share those stories, to help newcomers avoid the mistakes we made and see new generations of aquapioneers sprout!

To me, the value of the Aquaponics Association conference is all about these relationships.  It is the people in the room during the conference that are changing the world with aquaponics.  The people who will take it to the next level are in that room. You can meet them and even become one of them with enough persistence!

 

About the Author:

My name is Spencer Curry.  I am the CEO and cofounder of Trifecta Ecosystems, and in my spare time I am a Senior Advisor to the Aquaponics Association and have served in many different roles over the years.

The Story of STEM Aquaponics at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy

By Kevin Savage

Aquaponics at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA) in Ohio had humble beginnings – it began as a 3-week module in an agriculture unit of an environmental science elective course.  Under the guidance of two commercial aquaponic-growers, the first small aquaponic system was constructed in a CHCA classroom in November 2011, using a repurposed aquarium and recycled 2-liter bottles.  Students of Kevin Savage and Gary Delanoy completed construction of the system.

During the following academic year, aquaponics became a significant component of the Environmental Science I & II course sequence.  Over the next three years, as many as six different aquaponic systems were operating at any given time, and included student-built media bed, deep-water culture, nutrient film, and vertical tower systems.

 

In January 2018, the aquaponics program moved into a new 4,000 square foot on-campus greenhouse.  The greenhouse, with its attached 2,000 square foot classroom and laboratory facilities, is now the home for classroom instruction, student & faculty research, and a 3600-gallon DWC production growing system.

Since the beginning, lesson plans were modified from activities provided by other educators or found online, or were created by Savage and Delanoy.  Their lesson plans and activities have covered several scientific disciplines: biology, botany, chemistry, and even physics.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, Savage and Delanoy began teaching aquaponics using an Engineering Design Process (EDP) approach.  This iterative or cyclical approach to problem solving allows students to utilize and build on their “scientific method” skills, while solving practical problems associated with designing and building small-scale aquaponics systems in a classroom or greenhouse setting.  Teaching with this approach requires that the students develop mastery of basic science concepts associated with aquaponics, the technology integrated into even the smallest of systems, and the engineering principles (and required math skills) needed to complete a successful design under given constraints.  In short, the engineering design process approach provides the opportunity to include STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) education as the basis for a hands-on course, such as “Introduction to Aquaponics.”

Since the 2016-2017 academic year, Savage and Delanoy have relied heavily on the “Small-Scale Aquaponic Food Production” UN-FAO technical manual as their primary “textbook” for their students.  They have developed STEM-focused lecture, assessment, and lab-type activities using the content of this document.  Lesson plans are reviewed and modified each year, and work is ongoing to correlate these lesson plans and activities with curriculum standards (notably, the Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS).

Kevin Savage also serves as Secretary of the Aquaponics Association. Kevin will be presenting about the CHCA’s progress at the Putting Up Shoots conference this September 21-23 in Hartford, CT. He’ll answer your questions about growing STEM aquaponics at your institution.

Take a look at our conference page for more information
on how you can attend or become a presenter

How to Work with Your Food Safety Auditor

Food Safety: Answers and Updates 

FOR FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CROPS

By Juli Ogden and Ben Marchant / The Farm Plan LLC

At The Farm Plan, we provide many farmers with on-site audit support. In my opinion, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give farmers is ‘learn to work with your auditor’. No matter if this year will be your 1st certification, or

your 10th, following some simple steps makes the audit process simpler and easier for everyone. First, let’s define what food safety is – in this context, we’re

referring to raising a crop in a safe and sustainable manner that will not harm consumers. This is obviously in everyone’s interest to show the professionalism and commitment to producing safe crops within our industry, as well as broadening the base of the retailers willing to purchase our product.

An audit can be intimidating. The thought of a potentially unfriendly stranger poking around until they find something so that they can say ‘Gotcha!’ is in the minds of many farmers. Fortunately, the reality is somewhat different. The auditor is there to do a job, and they receive no special consideration for passing or ‘failing’ a farmer. Their goal, simply, is to move through an audit checklist as efficiently as they can. If they need to spend additional time to answer the questions completely, they will use it, and conversely if the opportunity exists to finish the audit earlier than scheduled because the farm is in obvious compliance without the need to dive deep, then they will be glad to finish up a little earlier. It’s in your best interest to be as organized as possible, ready to show compliance against each control point.

Auditors have different personalities. They are typically drawn from the industry they audit or have spent time learning your industry. Different auditors will have different ideas and there will be some, though hopefully minimal, variation between them. One auditor may mark a control point ‘compliant’, and the next year a different auditor will mark it ‘non-compliant’. It happens, and while it’s OK to ask questions and challenge a finding, keep things polite and professional. For you, a non-compliance might feel like a personal affront to the hard work you put in day in, day out, but to the auditor ‘it’s just business’ as they say. If you can show additional data that might sway the auditor, ask if that would help them reconsider their finding. And if not, it’s better not to argue. Seek a second opinion once the audit is complete.

It is your right to challenge an audit finding.  While I don’t recommend arguing every finding raised by the auditor, if you have a genuine concern that the finding does not reflect your compliance with the control point, you should contact the certifying body (CB) employing the auditor. Again, professionally and politely provide your data and show how you comply with the control point. This check and balance won’t always go in your favor, though, and if it doesn’t it’s often best to just move on. There is a further escalation available for very serious issues, such as auditor misconduct and fraud, but we’ll cover that another time.

For the most part, your auditor will be happy to be at your operation. They will have questions, and often genuine interest in how you do things. They may have a passion for food, food safety, and educating those around them. While there are rules precluding auditors from being overly familiar with your operation, depending on the standard, you can request the same auditor 3 or 4 years in a row before you are required to have a new auditor. Scheduling conflicts may not always allow this, but CB’s will do their best to honor your request. As mentioned, some auditors see things differently, or you may just feel more comfortable with a certain auditor. The consistency from year to year may ease your concerns.

 

Prior to your audit, it’s a good idea to contact the auditor. If that is not possible contact the representative at the CB to obtai

 

nthe list of documents the auditor will request, and in which order they prefer to see things. Having your documents organized the way the auditor prefers relieves stress and shows that your farm is organized, getting you off to a good start. When your auditor arrives on-site, treat them like a respected supplier. Have them sign-in and ask if they would like to conduct the physical inspection prior to the paperwork. This small change in schedule will allow the auditor to see the answer to many control points, and once inside they will be able to mark the question ‘OK’ without conversation, saving everybody time.

And please remember that there is always help available, you do not have to go through it alone if you do not want to. 

Updates

  1. CROPS FOR PROCESSING:  This new GLOBALG.A.P. standard simplifies rules for crops slated to be frozen, juiced, used to make pre-cooked meals and other types of processing. www.thefarmplan.com/GGcfp.
  2. FSMA PRODUCE SAFETY RULE Add-On:  This additional GLOBALG.A.P. module may be requested for your audit.  This is not mandatory and does not replace a FSMA Inspection but, according to GLOBALG.A.P. trainers, “may decrease the likelihood of your farm being inspected”.  Expect more change in the future.  See www.thefarmplan.com/FSMApsr.
  3. FSMA Compliance and Water Testing Rules:  These remain in a state of flux.  See new rules compliance target date chart at www.thefarmplan.com/FSMAdates.

House Farm Bill Doesn’t Even Mention Aquaponics

Our Chairman Brian Filipowich has been busy keeping aquaponics in the news.  Check out the article he contributed to UrbanAGNews.com about the 2018 Farm Bill.

“The House Agriculture Committee recently passed its draft of the 2018 Farm Bill (H.R.2) to the House floor for consideration. The bill doesn’t even mention sustainable production methods like aquaponics, hydroponics, vertical growing or greenhouse growing…” click on the link to see the full article (urbanagnews.com)


We are working on this and much more to help promote aquaponics as a standard for sustainable and organic growing.

Keep us posted if there is anything you would like to share with us. Sign in to our members area to share your news and posts for the rest of the aquaponics community to be a part of it.

2018 U.S. Farm Bill Campaign

Update: 2/1/2018

About every five years the Federal Government passes a massive, far-reaching “Farm Bill” with the main aim of providing an adequate national supply of food and nutrition. The Bill affects all facets of the U.S. food system including nutrition assistance, crop subsidies, crop insurance, research, and conservation. The 2014 Farm Bill directed the spending of about $450 billion.

The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill is on track to ignore aquaponics unless we make our voices heard! Here are some ways to get involved:

 

Here’s our 2018 Farm Bill Fact Sheet:

Here’s our 2018 Farm Bill Fact Sheet:

Organic Comment Fall 2017

Aquaponics and Hydroponics Organic Coalition Comment for the Fall 2017 NOSB Meeting

The Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition recommends that the NOSB allow organic certification of aquaponic and hydroponic (AP/HP) farms that are compliant with USDA organic standards. These farming methods align with the organic

mission and the integrity of the organic label stands much to gain by including them.

AP/HP are critical to improving the sustainability of our agricultural system, but revoking organic eligibility would move these industries backwards at a time we must foster their growth.

AP/HP fit the Organic mission. The Organic label is about empowering consumers to identify products that match their values. Consumers do not prefer organic because it is grown in soil; they prefer it because it is pesticide-free, environmentally sustainable, and relies on natural ecosystems for plant growth. So the question is: do AP/HP align with what the consumer expects when they purchase organic? Yes.

“Organic” is perceived by consumers to mean:

-Production without synthetic chemicals. AP/HP do not require synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

-Production that fosters the cycling of resources, ecological balance, and biodiversity conservation. AP/HP can be constructed as closed-loop ecosystems in which only the minimum required water and nutrients are added and with minimal or no discharge. AP/HP have also proven they can produce more food than soil culture per land area, thus saving more of the natural environment from the toll of agriculture.

-Production that relies on biological ecosystems to support plant health. Organic AP/HP production relies on a robust microflora in the root zone—made of the same types and numbers of bacteria and fungi that thrive in soil. This flora converts nutrients into forms available to plants and maintains plant health by reinforcing naturally-occurring mechanisms of disease resistance—just as in a healthy soil. (see attached Soil Food Web Report)

-Production that responds to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices. Consumers expect that organic produce has been grown with a healthy human element, where local customs, expertise, and ingenuity can overcome droughts, concrete jungles, and climate changes. AP/HP allow environmentally-sensitive agriculture where growing in soil isn’t possible.

The benefits of AP/HP include: water savings, reduced nutrient use and fertilizer runoff, shorter supply chains, food safety, and space efficiency.

In an era of climate change, resource depletion, and rapid population growth, the organic price premium is a critical incentive to draw more entrants into this market. If the NOSB revokes AP/HP organic eligibility, these industries will not grow as quickly and our environment, health, and economy will suffer.

AP/HP align with the values of organic that consumers expect, and they are highly sustainable. Rather than placing a greater toll on our environment and health, the NOSB should retain the organic eligibility of aquaponics and hydroponics.

Thank you,
The Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition

Members:
Agua Dulce Farm
Anacostia Aquaponics
Aquaberry Gardens
Arbordale Nurseries
Archi’s Institute
Association for Vertical Farming
Austin Aquaponics
Berry Audit Services
Blue Mojo Farm, LLC
Boto Waterworks
Cali Summer Clubs
CC Grow Inc.
CEA Fresh Farms
Center Valley Organics LLC
Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy
City of Minot North Dakota
NC Simple Life Farms LLC
Downtown Farms and Aquaponics
Edenworks
Evergreens
Fazenda Urbana Inc.
FloppyHatFarms
Fresh Farm Aquaponics, Inc
Freshies Aquaponics
Friendly Aquaponics, Inc
Gateshead Consulting Corporation
Great Lakes Growers LLC
HATponics
Heartland Aquaponics, LLC
Jenoe Group – Hydroponics
JoLi Farms
Joyful J Farms
Kabcao Aquaponics
Laughing Bear Enterprises
Living Justly Industries
Lotus Urban Farm and Garden Supply
Making Seeds 2 Cell
Manas Organic
Marine Science Faculty, Autonomous University of Sinaloa
Moroccan association of hydroponics
Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation
Oko Farms, LLC
Profound Microfarms
Rainsmith Agritech/Aquaponics
Renew Richmond
Re-Nuble
Solar Spice and Tea Trading Company
Springworks Farm
Symbiotic Aquaponic
Synergy Star Events
TerraFirma Aquaponixx
Texas Organic Matters
The Family Fish Farms Network, Inc
Trifecta Ecosystems, Inc
VERDEEN
Verticulture Farms
Windy City Harvest / Chicago Botanic Garden
Yep Yep Organic Farm

Individuals:
Amber C. Monroe
Andrew Carter
Everett L Melton
Imad Jabbour
Ivy Diene
Juan Pablo Pesalaccia
Krishnagopal Sharma
Marc L. Maynard
Matthew Henley
Peter Tyler
Xina Ash

Contact: brian.filipowich@gmail.com

Spring 2017 Update

NOSB Defers Decision on Organic Aquaponics to Fall 2017

By Jack Symington
Spring 2017

After three days of discussion in April, the National Organic Standards Board deferred deciding on the Organic eligibility of bioponic farming methods, including aquaponics. The NOSB will continue studying the issue and revisit it at the Fall 2017 meeting.

For the time being, aquaponic production is still eligible for Organic certification.

The primary reason for the deferral was the lack of consensus on both the definitions of various bioponic methods and the interpretation of “Organic” by consumers and farmers alike.

More Information

During the proceedings, Harriet Behar, NOSB member and former Organic certifier, stated that “[o]rganic is not input substitution. It is a whole system… a type of agriculture that offers hope for fixing the problems.” This attitude aligned with those of the consumer and retailer representatives on the board, who believe the current market interpretations of “Organic” center on ecological sustainability and input reduction. But even these interpretations would affect the eligibility of different bioponic methods, befitting aquaponics more than hydroponics, as the latter requires greater human inputs.

Proponents of restricting bioponic methods from Organic certification don’t believe the market should influence the definition. Instead, soil cultivation should remain the focus. Additionally, there was agreement on prioritizing the reduction of inputs, but divergence on the degree to which the growing media be biologically active.

There was no disagreement that aquaponics demonstrates an ecologically complete system requiring little human input, but there was discussion of the need for a different label than Organic based on the substrate choice.

Advocates of this idea cited the importance of an exclusive labelling to protect and encourage local farmers who can adhere to the strict definition of Organic without significant initial capital outlays. Dissidents worried that more labels would only confuse consumers and retailers. Joelle Mosso, NOSB member, “want[s] organic to be the form of agriculture, not a subset of agriculture,” and expressed wariness that a separation could end with two labels commercially weaker than one.

Before label and certification discussions resume, the board asks for more clear definitions of the three different bioponic systems (aqua, hydro, and aero). Specific questions for which the board wanted clarification involved the use of containers, biologically active grow media, and human inputs in each system’s production standard. While individual container systems lacking a solid substrate and requiring copious human inputs may struggle to retain Organic certification, the ecological complexity and sustainability of aquaponic systems provide both farmers and consumers a product credibly within the Organic framework.

Aquaponic GAP Standards

This is out of date and is considered archived and not a resource.
 
The Aquaponics Association has developed a set of provisional Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for aquaponics, a first step in enabling future food safety audits for large aquaponics operations. As these GAPs may run contrary to design of some current home gardens and artisinal farms, recall that GAPs are not mandatory for aquaponic systems that do not need to pass food safety audits. Click to Review Provisional GAP Standards for Aquaponics FDA & USDA Resources for GAP Practices Resources linked here for your convenience. These are general guidelines, while not specific to aquaponics provide a starting point for food safety.

Organic Issue

Join the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition 

The National Organic Standards Board will vote this November to formally recommend banning organic aquaponics and hydroponics, help us fight back!

CLICK HERE to join the effort

CLICK HERE to view the Coalition’s comment letter to the NOSB

The Aquaponics Association has established the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition. The mission of the Coalition is to retain our industries’ organic eligibility and, if necessary, work to develop specific aquaponic and hydroponic organic standards.

Membership in the Coalition is free and open to any and all businesses, organizations, institutions, or plain old ordinary citizens who believe that aquaponics and hydroponics should be eligible for USDA organic certification.

Why Are We Forming the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition?

We need to start growing with more aquaponics and hydroponics (AP/HP) to be able to feed our growing population without causing irreparable harm to our environment and our health. But in order to increase our volume, AP/HP have to be commercially viable. The organic label allows growers to earn a premium for their produce and can be the difference between a profitable farm or bankruptcy. If practiced appropriately, AP/HP embody the spirit of organic that consumers expect: they are highly sustainable and do not require antibiotics or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. And in a measure critical to organic classification – the quantity and diversity of root microbes- AP/HP are comparable to the flora in compost.

Urban agriculture is often forced to be soilless because of space and/or contaminated soil. Organic certification allows a premium price, which can be critical for urban operations’ survival because of high land prices. In other words: a “soil-only” organic rule would devastate urban agriculture, an important source of urban employment and upward mobility.

Sustainable Advantages of Aquaponics and Hydroponics Over Soil Culture

AP/HP use 90% less water than soil crops! In the U.S., agriculture accounts for approximately EIGHTY PERCENT of our fresh water usage.  In 2015 NASA documented the shocking depletion of global groundwater resources, finding that 21 of the worlds’ 37 largest aquifers are experiencing unsustainable depletion.

AP/HP are closed-loop systems, meaning there is no nutrient or fertilizer runoff. Runoff from soil agriculture disrupts the natural ecosystem and causes massive aquatic “dead zones”, like in the Chesapeake Bay or the Gulf of Mexico.

AP/HP can grow food more densely and produce more food for a given area than soil-based agriculture. A “soil-only” organic philosophy requires the destruction of more natural space to feed our growing population.

What Will the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition Do?

Coalition members will receive updates from the Aquaponics Association when events occur regarding AP/HP grower’s organic eligibility.

During critical moments of USDA deliberation, the Aquaponics Association will ask Coalition Members to take voluntary action. Examples of such actions include:

  • signing group advocacy letters to the USDA or Congress;
  • individually contacting the USDA or your representatives in Congress;
  • providing the Coalition with information about your operations and how changes to AP/HP organic eligibility would affect you;
  • seeking other like-minded business or organizations to join our Coalition; or
  • attending regional meetings, such as the National Organic Standards Board’s November 16 meeting in St. Louis, MO.

How is the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition Organized?

The Coalition is managed by the Aquaponics Association. The Association has an Organics Committee that advises it on matters related to AP/HP organic eligibility. If you have particular expertise in AP/HP organic eligibility and believe you could be helpful to the operation of the Coalition, please email community@legacy.aquaponicsassociation.org with a brief note about yourself and your background — we can use all the help we can get!

Current State of Organic Rules
In 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended prohibiting “hydroponic and aeroponic” systems from organic certification due to their “exclusion of soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems”. Such a rule would apply to aquaponics as well. However, the data shows beneficial microbes are abundant on the roots of hydroponic and aquaponic plants. “Sterile hydroponics” is an urban legend—and should never be the basis for excluding it from organics.

Despite the NOSB’s recommendation, the USDA’s National Organics Program (NOP) did not take action and aquaponics and hydroponics have still been organic-eligible. (The NOSB is an advisory body to the NOP)

The NOP appointed a Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force. The Task Force just issued a report, which can be found here. And the NOSB in September, 2016 officially released a new recommendation, on which they will vote in November:

“…the NOSB supports the decisions by previous boards by recommending that hydroponics, aeroponics, bioponics or aquaponics are not consistent with organic production due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems.” – NOSB Proposals and Discussion Documents in preparation for the November 2016 meeting

The Aquaponics Association, through the guidance of its Organics Committee, plans to provide a comment to the NOSB proposal and mount an advocacy campaign to ensure that AP/HP production retains its eligibility for organic certification.

If you have any questions or comments on this issue, please email community@legacy.aquaponicsassociation.org.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP

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