Sustainable Organics: Why Aquaponics and Hydroponics Make Sense

We in the Aquaponics Association encourage you to align yourselves with the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, which is working with us to fight exclusion of container-grown foods (e.g., aquaponics) from eligibility for organic certification.

Those who exclusively farm the land want aquaponics to be excluded from "organic." They believe that soil is required. They pretend their objection is merely to hydroponics, which they characterize as sterile and non-natural. But the proposed rule changes are not based in science, nor do they consider stewardship of scarce resources or social justice.

The Crops Subcommittee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is meeting this week and next week to consider recommendations to excluding "soil-less" growing from eligibility under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The formal proposal will likely be published in late September.

The USDA is seeking public comments for the fall NOSB meeting. The Aquaponics Association will be working with the Coalition for Sustainable Organics to develop a coherent and detailed set of responses.

Join us to keep aquaponics organic!

So far the Coalition for Sustainable Organics has over 50 growers and concerned citizens who have already submitted comments in support of organics including container production systems, such as aquaponics.

Comments like these remind the USDA and the NOSB that container production systems are sustainable, legitimate and sensible, and that it is important to preserve our systems as part of the organic family. Your voice has power to make a major impact with the people deciding the fate of the industry right now.

If you have commented already and reached out to your network, thank you. If you or your network have not yet submitted comments, please do so this week!

You can submit comments by clicking on the following link and then following the instructions.

https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=AMS-NOP-16-0049-0001

Below is editorial content you can adapt as you wish to inform your comment:

Dear National Organic Standards Board (NOSB),

I urge you to continued allowing organic certification for container and greenhouse growing methods.  Denying container-based agriculture this important designation will stifle innovation precisely when it is most critical that America improves water stewardship and ability to produce food in urban environments.

Limited Water Resources

Pressure on limited water resources is more severe than ever before.  Soil-based agriculture is responsible for the vast majority of fresh water use in America. Soil-based farming consumes as much as 1000% more water than state-of-the-art container-based methods. Meanwhile the majority of Americans live in regions where water is being depleted at unsustainable rates.

In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences indicated that the High Plains aquifer was already depleted by 30%, with depletion expected to approach 70% within 50 years if current practices continue. Natural replenishment of the aquifer would take hundreds of years, with estimates ranging up to 1,300 years. The mid-west states affected by depletion of the High Plains aquifer are home to nearly 70 million Americans.

California currently supplies 50% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States, with agriculture consuming the vast majority of fresh water resources. Yet drought and soil-based agricultural practices have depleted California's fresh water resources by 11 trillion gallons as of 2014, with over 7 trillion gallons of that depleted from California's aquifers. The magnitude of this depletion was quantified by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission. Nor is California unique.

In 2014 Scripps Institute of Oceanography published a study showing that the western United States had lost a total of 63 trillion gallons of water since 2003. GPS measurements throughout the west show the loss of water is causing the land to rise up. The pervasive drought conditions threaten millions of acres of farmland and the economy where over 75 million Americans live.

In 2015 NASA documented the shocking depletion of global groundwater resources, finding that 21 of the worlds 37 largest aquifers are experiencing unsustainable depletion. The Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains aquifer, supporting over 120 million Americans, is among those where use far outstrips natural rates of recharge.

The Northeastern US, home of many of those passionately advocating withdrawal of organic status for container-grown crops, is not experiencing water stress. Farmers in the Northeast are neighbors to fewer than 60 million individuals, less than 20% of the US population in 2015.

Further, agricultural production in the Northeast only supplies a small percentage of the total food needs of Northeast residents. Cornell University researcher, Christian Peters, documented New York State's food production capacity from 2006 to 2009. New York farmers were able to feed less than 35% of state residents, with New York city residents receiving only 2% of their food needs from farmers in New York state.

Food Deserts and Social Justice

New York City residents only obtain 2% of their food from New York state farmers, according to research performed by Christian Peters at Cornell University. Tourists to New York City see an abundance of small groceries with fresh food. But in 2008 the New York Times publicized that millions of city residents have adeuqate access to fresh food resources. A comprehensive analysis of the entire city demonstrated in 2008 that 750,000 residents lived more than five blocks from a grocery of supermarket. A "Supermarket Need Index" showed significant patches of under-served neighborhoods in Staten Island, the north of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. These under-served neighborhoods correlated strongly with neighborhoods with as many as 25% reporting they had eaten no fruits or vegetables the prior day. The United Hospital Fund demonstrated that the neighborhoods that typically didn't eat fruits and vegetables suffered the highest rates of obesity and diabetes.

New York City graphically demonstrates the health burden imposed on the poor in urban environments. This is America's problem, with over 60% of Americans living in cities and over 80% of Americans living in an "urban" environment.

Urban environments pose significant barriers to organic soil-based farming. Land is rarely available in large enough plots to sustain a profitable soil-based farm. Available plots are often contaminated by urban byproducts that make the land under-productive and inappropriate for safe food production, much less organic food production. It is only through use of container and greenhouse agricultural methods that food production density and safety can be achieved in urban environments.

To categorically deny organic certification to container-based agriculture will further disadvantage the only forms of agriculture appropriate for the neighborhoods where 80% of Americans live. While not every urban farmer will seek organic certification, all container-based agriculture will benefit from the ability of the few to innovate with the approbation of that sector of the public that desires organic food and can afford the time and money associated with avoiding non-organic foods.

Organic Branding

The hard-working organic farmer growing crops in the ground deserves a label that conveys the visceral appeal soil-grown crops have for many consumers.

However not every consumer who purchases organic produce and products is primarily motivated by the nostalgia for traditionally-grown crops. Some consumers primarily desire food that is locally grown and free of pesticides and antibiotics. They want food that is sustainable and safe for their loved ones. The precise method by which this food is produced is of secondary importance to them.

Rather than restrict Americans to only those organic crops grown in soil, we suggest that organic labeling be updated to honor soil-grown crops in a separate category from crops grown using container-based methods like aquaponics and hydroponics. This will allow soil-based agriculture to enjoy exclusive access to those who feel passionately about soil-based farming, without denying innovative sustainable agriculture access to those customers who wish "organic" food by whatever method excludes unnatural pesticides, antibiotics, and nutrients.

Sterile Food Production and Other Myths

It appears one objection to container-based agriculture is the belief that soil itself is uniquely capable of supporting soil enrichment and providing plant roots robust microbial environments.

Despite the penchant for hydroponic growers to frequently bleach their systems between crops, studies show hydroponically-grown plants do benefit from significant microbial synergy in the root zone. A unit volume of hydroponic solution contains a similar number of bacteria as the same volume of compost (1 million bacteria per ml in hydroponic solution versus 100,000-10 million bacteria seen in a ml of various composts). Mycorrhizal fungi thrive in hydroponics and aquaponics, serving the same role in water and nutrient absorption for container-grown plants that the do in soil-grown plants. Studies show the presence of beneficial bacteria and funghi in a relatively sterile hydroponic system can increase in a single day to the level of beneficial bacteria seen in compost. Whether plants are grown in soil or solution, they gather around themselves the beneficial bacteria they need to thrive.

While hydroponic nutrient solution may not be used directly to enrich local soils, the bulk of plant material derives from oxygen, and carbon from the air combined with sunshine and water. The plant material that is not sold can be composted to enrich the soils in the vicinity of the hydroponic farm.

In the case of aquaponics, the bulk of required plant nutrients are naturally produced as a result of fish waste within a container-based recirculating system. Aquaponics produces fish emulsion as well as excess plant material, providing for significant enrichment of soils in the vicinity of an aquaponic farm.

Advocates of soil-based agriculture perceive the stewardship they exercise over the soils of their agricultural holdings. By contrast, they do not see the benefit containers provide to soil and biodiversity.

However, it is not so much that containers enrich the soil immediately beneath them, but that containers permit greater production within the same area. Turning this around, this means for the same amount of food produce, more land is freed up for the biodiversity of nature itself.

One final myth that should be addressed is the idea that organic soil-based agriculture does not disturb natural ecosystems. C&A is one of the world's largest retailers of organic cotton apparel, and desired to demonstrate the value of organic cotton production in terms of water footprint. Specifically, they wanted to show that conventional methods of producing cotton created a vast pollution burden compared to organic production. In the draft version of their report, C&A asserted that there was no pollution burden associated with organic cotton production. When the draft report was presented to the Water Footprint Network (formerly a branch of UNESCO), the water footprint scientists corrected the understandable error. Whether fertilizer is synthetic or organic, damaging components of fertilizer leach into local waters at a rate of 10% (for nitrate) and 2% (for phosphorus). The nutrients cause eutrophication in local waters, producing algae blooms, oxygen deprivation, and fish kills. The additional pollution burden associated with pesticides and other chemicals may be 5 times greater than the pollution associated with nutrients, making organic production clearly better than conventional production. But it is not true that soil-based organic production does not harm to natural ecosystems in the vicinity of a farm.

In comparison to the natural nutrient leachate associated with soil production, proper container-based agriculture minimizes or eliminates the leaching of nutrients into the surrounding environment, particularly sensitive water resources. This is a reason that use of aquaponics, for example, is exploding in the Pacific and Asia. Purity of local water resources is of paramount importance to those living on islands. Pacific Rim nations also lack the abundant per capita land resources possessed by the continental United States. The ability to produce significant food resources on limited land resources without contaminating fragile water resources is attractive to people who live in such a constrained environment.

Intent of the Organic Movement

The original intent of the organic movement was to use biology to cycle natural inputs while avoiding prohibited substances.

An attempt to exclude container-based agriculture from the organic umbrella not only hurts container-based agriculture industries, it risks harming the relevance of the organic movement itself.

Edwin Markham penned the famous epigram title "Outwitted":

He drew a circle that shut me out--

     Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

     We drew a circle that took him in!

Were the NOSB and NOP to exclude container-based agriculture from inclusion in the organic movement, there would be a perception by some that the move had more to do with protectionism that either science or sustainability.

Further, there is the question of where the exclusionary circle would be drawn. Would traditional soil crops that are transplanted to containers and grown to maturity in greenhouses be considered soil crops or container-grown crops? There are vast numbers of organic farmers that take advantage of such time-honored production techniques. To exclude them from the organic movement would be damaging to the organic infrastructure of farmers and food production businesses that can currently tout the organic label. To include them while excluding other container-based agricultural methods would be patently unfair.

Also worth noting is the number of organic products that are not grown in soil. Seaweed and kelp come to mind. Microgreens and sprouts are not grown in soil. Spirulina is an algae that isn't grown in soil. Would these nutrient rich products be excluded from the organic movement? If not, on what rational basis would it make sense to exclude container-based agricultural products if these water-grown agricultural products are accorded organic status?

Process Foul

For those who have followed the history of the recent USDA Organic Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force, it is clear that appropriate processes were not followed. The Task Force was populated by a mix of scientists and long-time organic advocates. However the timeframe the task force had been promised to develop the report was foreshortened. The number of in-person meetings was cut from two to one. The report that was issued did not contain concurrence signatures from all members of the task force, notably omitting scientists specializing in hydroponics and aquaponics.

Rather than developing refined standards for organic container-based agriculture, the issued report relied on opinion and pseudo-science to argue that container-based agriculture should be excluded from eligibility for organic certification. The lack of probity reflected in the report has been shocking to long-time observers of the organic movement. Scientists attempting to advance innovations that can promote sustainable agriculture and urban crop production have been thoroughly disheartened by the unprofessional and unscientific black-balling on the part of those insisting ground-based soil farming must be the basis for organic certification.

Americans have a right to government that governs in the best interest of all. While not everyone will be pleased by the final position taken by government, it is incumbent on the National Organic Program to base its determination regarding container-based agriculture on science and the public benefit. Protectionist cronyism ought not be the basis for changing organic standards in a way that damages public health, prohibits wise stewardship of natural resources, and flies in the face of the original intent of the organic movement.

In Conclusion

I urge you to retain container-based agriculture as part of the suite of growing methods considered eligible for organic certification. To do otherwise flies in the face of scientific fact, damages national food security, and panders to a minority that is not affected by water deficits and urban conditions, each affecting over 80% of Americans in their different ways.

Should the matter of organic certification for hydroponics and aquaponics be raised during the fall NOSB meeting, I urge that the recommendation be limited to differentiating organic labeling for soil-based agriculture versus organic labeling for hydroponics, organic labeling for aquaponics, and organic labeling for container-based soil agriculture. In that vein, organic labeling for crops that can't be grown in soil should be identified if labeling is differentiated.

Regards/Sincerely/Very Truly Yours/etc.,

[your signature]

Keeping Aquaponics Organic

The National Organic Standards Board meets in November 2016 to discuss excluding aquaponics and hydroponics as "organic"

The National Organic Standards Board meets in November 2016 to discuss excluding aquaponics and hydroponics as "organic"

From the desk of Brian Filipowich, Committee Chair for the Aquaponics Association Organics Committee:

Dear Aquaponics Association Member:

We write to inform you that the Aquaponics Association has formed an Organics Committee to represent our industry in the National Organics Program (NOP) deliberations as to whether aquaponics food production will remain eligible for organic certification. Below is information about the Committee, and information about the current state of NOP deliberations.

Committee Membership
Brian Filipowich, Director of Programs and Policies, the Aquaponics Association
Meg Stout, Chairman, the Aquaponics Association
Sarah Taber, Director of Food Safety, the Aquaponics Association
Rob Nash, Owner/Operator, Austin Aquaponics.com and HannaLeigh Farms
Cissy Bowman, Founder, Indiana Certified Organic; Member of Certified Naturally Grown’s Aquaponics Standards Advisory Committee
Joe Schram, Commercial Aquaponic Farmer

Committee Operation
The Organics Committee will consider matters relating to aquaponics producers’ eligibility for organic certification and recommend actions to the Aquaponics Association Board. The Association Board will ultimately decide what actions to take.

Current State of Deliberations
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. Research indicates that beneficial bacteria are abundant on the roots of hydroponic and aquaponic plants, which should satisfy the requirement for soil-plant ecology. The movement to ban “soil-less” from organic is still being pushed by a group called Keep the Soil in Organic (keepthesoilinorganic.org).

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

The NOSB is revisiting the recommendation to ban soil-less systems. To inform this decision-making, the NOP appointed a Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force. The Task Force just issued a report, which can be found here. In general, the report was favorable to aquaponics and hydroponics retaining organic eligibility. However, that does not mean the NOSB cannot choose its own course of action. The NOSB is expected to consider public comment on this issue at their Fall 2016 meeting to be held November 16-18 in St. Louis, Missouri. Written comments or requests for a 3-minute oral speaking slot (in person or via webinar) must be made by 11:59 pm ET on 26 October. Visit the NOSB Fall 2016 website for more information.

2016 Association Elections to be held in November 2016

As we have done in the past, the election of executive officers of the Aquaponics Association will be held in conjunction with our Aquaponics Association Conference.

There are four positions up for election this year, with a short description of each:

Chairman - responsible for the Association, approves all communications or designates spokespeople for the Association, term is two years

Vice Chairman - assists Chairman and replaces Chairman in case the Chairman cannot continue in the elected role due to permanent or temporary incapacity, desired term is two years, but will be one year for this term

Treasurer - handles financial reporting and replaces Chairman if neither the Chairman or Vice Chairman can continue in their elected role, term is one year

Secretary - handles minutes, membership list, and assists with website maintenance, term is one year

When the Aquaponics Association was formed, the bylaws were set up to require officers and voters be members in good standing of the Association for at least three months prior to the election. There was also a requirement that officers not be members of the same family or the same business. These two sets of requirements were put in place to prevent any particular business or family from gaining too much control over the Association, and to prevent an influx of late comers from radically shifting the leadership of the organization. 

As will be discussed in a future post, there has been a motion to change the rules to waive the three month requirement. However, in the case that motion isn't seconded or passed, the current bylaws require that an individual be a member in good standing (dues paid, not under disciplinary sanction) for at least three months prior to the election in question. As the voting for officers will close on November 12, 2016, those wishing to submit their candidacy for office or vote in the election must have paid the $45 membership fee by August 12, 2016. Donations of $45 or more will include an individual in member correspondence regarding elections.

For more information on the duties associated with each office, please see Article 12 of the Aquaponics Association Bylaws.

Five Secrets for Success

Five Secrets for Success

We recently got an e-mail from someone putting together a business plan for a commercial Aquaponics business. They asked the five most important success factors for a commercial Aquaponics Enterprise. Here's our answer -

#1) Have a rock solid business plan.

#2) Start small and grow as your market develops.

#3) Design for disaster up front.

#4) Don't buy a facility just because it already exists and is cheap.

#5) Install a proven system.

Download Free 'Aquaponics Decision Software' to Assist in Farm Management and Planning

The CTSA-funded project “Economic Analyses of Aquaponics Systems in Hawaii and Guam” is pleased to release Aquaponics Decision Software, a commercial aquaponics spreadsheet modeling system. The purpose of this generalized spreadsheet modeling system is to provide a user-friendly tool that can be used by existing and potential aquaponics producers as an on-farm decision aid, and by extension and research personnel to identify key areas where operations can be improved in order to sustain the profitability of aquaponics production.

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 9] | Pulling It All Together: Making Decisions for the Coming Season

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

Pulling it all together — Ellen Polishuk via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the Part 3, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.


Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you? 

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 8] | Managing Labor Costs

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

Managing Labor Costs — Ellen Polishuk via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the Part 3, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.


Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you? 

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 7] | Setting Your Prices: Making Sure You Make a Profit

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

Setting Your Prices: Making Sure You Make a Profit – Jim Munsch via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the Part 3, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.


Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you? 

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 6] | Discovering Prices: What Do Others Charge for Produce?

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

Discovering Prices: What Do Others Charge for Produce? – Jim Munsch via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the Part 3, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.


Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you? 

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 5] | Benchmarking: Making Adjustments Based on Comparisons

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

Benchmarking: Making Adjustments Based on Comparisons — Ellen Polishuk via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the Part 3, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.


Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you? 

High school aquaponics greenhouse grows on after pioneer student graduates

In the spring of 2012, Pierre Beauchamp advanced his growing aquaponics experience by designing and building an aquaponics greenhouse at his high school, Del Oro High School, in Loomis, California.

Pierre discovered aquaponics on accident. At the age of 12, Pierre was introduced to hydroponics and built a small system in a backyard greenhouse at home. He learned from monitoring the systems nutrients, and adding the necessary supplements to keep his plants healthy. One morning, after the system had been growing for a few months, Pierre discovered that a frog had discovered his sump tank and decided it was a great place to lay it's eggs. Tadpoles were swimming happily in the sump tank. His appreciation for life motivated him to keep the tadpoles, and his scientific mind started monitoring the nutrients in the system to see what took place. He was excited to find that the nutrient levels maintained and the plant continued to thrive. 

In addition to Pierre's talent and enthusiasm, Del Oro High School had a farm program, and the support of FFA (Future Farmers of America) teacher Regina Dvorak provided the necessary support for Pierre to bring his vision to life. Dvorak arrived at Del Oro H.S. in 1998, and began working on the farm from the beginning. (https://sites.google.com/a/puhsd.k12.ca.us/mrs-dvorak/school-farm-facility)

PIERRE'S AQUAPONICS LESSON PLAN PRESENTATION:

Del Oro Aquaponics
http://www.deloroaquaponics.com

Pierre graduated with the Class of 2014. And the system grows on thanks to Mrs. Dvorak's commitment and sweat, administrative and community support, innovation, and help from the FFA students. The FFA Supervised Agriculture Experience project ties directly into the school farm and the aquaponics greenhouse. Dvorak explains:

For their SAE projects, students work in the greenhouse on the aquaponics system, plant seeds and propagate plants for resale, maintain the garden boxes and other planting areas, learn about landscape maintenance, complete irrigation projects, prune the fruit trees and raise livestock.  Each spring we showcase our farm and students projects through our annual open house and plant sale.  Every Friday, students work outside on the farm either for their projects or as a collaborative effort to maintain the gardens and growing areas.

To raise funds, the students collect recyclables from the school campus, as well as complete the requirements for the agriculture incentive grant funding available each year through agriculture education.

The developments of the Del Oro farm program, have become the foundation for  a four-year educational program Dvorak is creating, called "Farm-To-Fork" The pathway for interested students consists of:

  1. Ag Science (pre-req) -take as a freshman;
  2. Ag Bio (not as a prereq; open to take as a sophmore, ideally in conjunction with Culinary 2)
  3. Culinary 1 (pre-req) - take as a freshman or sophmore;
  4. Culinary 2 (open to take as a soph or junior)
  5. Farm-To-Fork - take as a junior or a senior
    1. Agriculture - 6 weeks (perhaps breaking it up into 3 week sections)
    2. Culinary - 6 weeks (same)
    3. Internship
      1. Farm - 3 weeks
      2. Restaurant - 3 weeks

The two biggest challenges Dvorak faces, aside from pests, is time and summer mainetance. With school out of session, Dvorak spends a significant amount of her personal time tending to the farm and the aquaponics greenhouse to keep it running. The harvest she collects is preserved through canning and freezing to be used by the culinary classes the following year. To assist in the time needed to keep the farm running, Dvorak is reaching out to local community colleges and universities to arrange work based internship programs. 

To close, I will share Edutopia's wonderful segment about Pierre and the Del Oro aquaponics greenhouse. 

How Gardening Enables Interdisciplinary Learning
High school student Pierre combined biology, math, economics, and more to transform his campus greenhouse into a sustainable aquaponic system that provides fresh vegetables for the cafeteria.
OCTOBER 29, 2013

The Aquaponics Association does not have any affiliation with Del Oro High School or Del Oro Aquaponics. This blog series is a showcase of educational programs, presentations, and aquaponics projects; for the purpose of sharing the work and results being conducted in schools, colleges, and universities around the world.

Is there a school, college, or university you know of that is involved with aquaponics? Let us know, so we can share it:

Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you?

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 4] | Using Individual Crop Budgets

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

Using Individual Crop Budgets — Jim Munsch via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the Part 3, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.


Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you? 

Growing Farm Profits e-Course [Part 3] | Analyzing and Making Decisions with Veggie Compass

This Southern Sustainable Agriculture Work Group's online course was developed for farmers and for those who help farmers develop more sustainable farming enterprises. While this course will definitely have a vegetable production slant, many of the concepts and principles discussed will be informative to other producers.

SSAWG is providing a range of materials they expect will be helpful to you on your path to growing your farm profits. Many of the educational materials and recordkeeping tools provided here are ones they use in their popular Growing Farm Profits classroom trainings. To ensure that these resources have useful practical application in the real world of farming, these resources were largely developed with considerable input from farmers.

We will be providing this course to you in the following sections twice a week (on Sunday) and Wednesdays):

  • Managing Your Farm as a Business — Jim Munsch (Sun 3/8)
  • Whole Farm Profit Management — Ellen Polishuk (Weds 3/11)
  • Analyzing and Making Decisions with Veggie Compass — Ellen Polishuk (below)
  • Using Individual Crop Budgets — Jim Munsch (Weds 3/18)
  • Benchmarking: Making Adjustments Based on Comparisons — Ellen Polishuk (Sun 3/22)
  • Discovering Prices: What Do Others Charge for Produce? – Jim Munsch (Weds 3/25)
  • Setting Your Prices: Making Sure You Make a Profit – Jim Munsch (Sun 3/29)
  • Managing Labor Costs — Ellen Polishuk (Weds 4/1)
  • Pulling It All Together: Making Decisions for the Coming Season — Ellen Polishuk (Sun 4/5)

Analyzing and Making Decisions with Veggie Compass by Ellen Polishuk via SSAWG (download pdf)

These resources are FREE from SSAWG. They encourage you to share these “farmer-friendly” tools widely. 

SSAWG intention is to continue to add to this body of resources, as funding permits.

If you haven't watched the video series from the last post here, please do so now, it will help with your understand Veggie Compass and how it helps farmers understand some of the hidden factors influencing their profitability. This video series is a step-by-step demonstration of how a tool called “Veggie Compass” can be used to give small and mid-scale horticultural farmers a much fuller picture of their farm finances than regular recordkeeping systems provide. This is not a sales pitch for this particular free tool. Whether you actually decide to use Veggie Compass yourself is not as important as learning the concepts this tool allows us to demonstrate.

Happy Sunday :)