Speaker Spotlight: Rob Torcellini, Bigelow Brook Farm

(Photo Credit: Douglas Healey for The New York Times)

Rob Torcellini is hosting a stop on the Husky-Ponics Tour and moderating an “Ask the Experts” panel discussion

By Kevin Savage

Mention the name “Rob Torcellini” or “Bigelow Brook Farm” in a gathering of aquapons, and ask folks what they think of first.  The comments are varied, and reflect Rob’s involvement and engagement in aquaponics over the past decade, and in the Aquaponics Association since its inception.  In no particular order, Rob is known as:

  • One of only a handful of members to be active in the Association since the first conference in Orlando in September 2011;
  • The guy who designed his own geodesic dome greenhouse using Russian CAD software, and then fabricated nearly all of his own structural pieces and built the greenhouse himself;
  • The guy who designed and built his own rocket mass heater to provide heat to his geodesic dome greenhouse;
  • The guy who designed, and used 3-D printing technology to “print” a bell siphon, and then demonstrated the siphon to the attendees at the 2017 “Putting Down Roots” conference last November in Portland, Oregon;
  • The producer of a myriad of YouTube videos (nearly 240!) documenting just about every conceivable thing that there is to document related to raising fish and growing plants using aquaponics;
  • One of the friendliest and most personable members of the aquaponics community.

In addition to being an aquaponics grower, Rob also designs, manufactures, and distributes products for the aquaponics industry.  Over the past decade, Rob has opened Bigelow Brook Farm for an ongoing virtual farm tour, and has shared his experiences with aquaponics, including all of the challenges that come with being an aquaponics grower in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6A.  Rob’s latest project at Bigelow Brook Farm is construction of a new large greenhouse (and yes, he’s building it himself) to contain a new aquaponic production system.  As is Rob’s approach to any new project, he has been video-documenting just about every step of the process, from site preparation to installation of the supporting hoops to floor placement & leveling to covering the hoops to enclose the structure.  His videos provide his technical basis and reasoning behind many of his decisions along the way; mixed in are personal anecdotes that include successes, as well as the occasional item that didn’t turn out quite like Rob wanted or expected.

Those attending the Putting Up Shoots 2018 Aquaponics Association Conference in Hartford, and participating in the conference’s Husky-Ponics Friday Tour program will have the opportunity to meet Rob, and to see first-hand all of the features that make up Bigelow Brook Farm, including the now-famous geodesic dome greenhouse, as well as the new larger greenhouse and its new aquaponics system.

Speaker Spotlight: Ryan Chatterson, Aquaponic Engineering and Design

Finding Profitability In An Ever-Changing Aquaponic Landscape
Putting Up Shoots Conference Presentation
September 21-23, 2018  —  Hartford, CT

With 16 years of experience in the Aquaponic industry as well as being the proud owner of a profitable Aquaponic farm, Ryan Chatterson will discuss several ways for the everyday Aquaponic Farmer to find profitability. Attendees will learn:

  • what questions to ask before even starting your designs;
  • how farm scale dictates the markets you will be selling into (as well as the crops to grow);
  • what it costs to get into the business; and
  • what is takes to jump out of the red and into the green permanently

Profitable Aquaponic farming is a reality everyone can achieve given the proper foresight and planning!

Check out the gorgeous aquaponic tomatoes from Ryan’s farm! Somebody find some fresh basil, mozzarella, a pinch of coarse salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar ASAP!

            

The Husky-Ponics Tour!

Come take the Husky-Ponics Tour with us! September 21, 2018 at the Putting Up Shoots Conference we’ll be visiting two aquaponic farms deep in Husky territory: the University of Connecticut Spring Valley Student Farm, and Rob Torcellini’s Bigelow Brook Farm. Find more info at this link: The Husky-Ponics Tour

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.

Important New Economic Agriculture Report

This new TEEB report is kinda nerdy, but if you are an aquaponic grower it’s vitally important.

TEEB (“The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity”) is a global initiative focused on “making nature’s values visible”. They have just released their latest report; Scientific and Economic Foundations.

Here’s the problem the report addresses: our current food system is loaded with invisible costs: 1) health care costs from pesticide use; 2) antibiotic resistance from rampant antibiotic use in our meat; 3) excessive water use; 4) aquatic dead zones from agricultural runoff; 5) excessive carbon use for food transport; 6) biodiversity loss from clearing land to feed a growing population, etc etc etc…

Here’s one specific example: a forest provides value to every human being: 1) it filters water; 2) it prevents erosion; 3) it sequesters carbon and releases oxygen; and 4) it preserves biodiversity which prevents against infestation, disease, and extinctions which could irreparable harm our entire ecosystem.

So if a large industrial grower clears 1,000 acres of forest to grow more corn, who is paying for this loss of value? Somebody else, or future generations.

In our “free market” form of capitalism, these costs should be taken into account and built into the cost of production. But because these costs are hard to quantify and evaluate, we simply ignore them and stick our heads in the sand like a flock of ostriches.

TEEB is the world’s leading effort to actually put a pricetag on these costs.

As aquaponic growers, we are able to grow the most fruits, vegetables, and fish with the absolute minimum resources necessary. And we can do it without pesticides, without antibiotics and without agricultural runoff. And we can do it local no matter where you are, from cities to deserts, from rooftops to warehouses.

In our “free market” economy, we need to put a price tag on hidden costs in order for aquaponic growers to fully monetize their efficiency.

Can you imagine how much aquaponics would grow if our economy started to charge the true cost of water, carbon, antibiotics, pesticides, deforestation, agricultural runoff, etc? The price of the industrially produced lettuce from 1,000 miles away would go way up, but the aquaponic-grower from your hometown could deliver it without an increase.

This TEEB report is a critical step in that direction.

 

 

Call for Conference Presentations

My name is Kemp and I am Co-Chair for the annual Aquaponics Association conference this September in Hartford, CT.

The word is out! We have some incredible things happening at the organization right now! We have a fully staffed board from all across the country and from all walks of life. We have instituted weekly board calls to bring the Association into compliance and to create a better user experience for our members. In continuing to build on our first quarter success the board has set it’s sights on the yearly Conference and we are actively building out the content that will drive this event.

It is our hope that in delivering a top-tier conference, that we can substantially move Aquaponics forward as a respected, sustainable, and replicable medium.

Are you a commercial grower with a specialty crop?

Are you a STEM teacher with incredible students?

Are you a backyard hobbyist with a great story to tell?

Are you a researcher with groundbreaking aquaponic technology?

We hope to bring the best speakers and ideas to the front this year and we would love to hear from you!

Please submit a proposal if you are a speaker that may be a benefit to our industry or know of someone that would be a great addition to our conference.

CLICK HERE to submit a proposal

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and please visit our website!

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kemp Bromberg
Putting Up Shoots Conference Co-Chair
Executive Board Member, Aquaponics Association

Carlos Leon; Development of Bio-Engineering for Commercial Aquaponics

Carlos Leon of Acuaponia will discuss the Development of Bio-Engineering for Commercial Aquaponics this September at the Putting Up
Shoots conference. Carlos operates commercial farms in Mexico, and is one of several international speakers at the conference.
Design criteria for aquaponic systems have evolved over the past several years. At first, the focus was just fish and plants. But now, new hybrid systems use biotechnology to incorporate other products.
Carlos will discuss the commercial production of shrimp and algae in aquaponic systems; and the newest technologies that make this possible.
He’ll be presenting in the Commercial Aquaponics learning track. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to hear about speakers from the Community Aquaponics, STEM Aquaponics, and Aquaponics Research & Food Safety learning tracks.

 

Ken Armstrong; Putting Up Shoots Speaker Spotlight

This September at the Putting Up Shoots conference, Ken Armstrong from Ouroboros Farms will talk about his experience on the front-lines of the aquaponics industry in his presentation, “The Future of Aquaponics Is Now”.

Ken will highlight the history of commercial aquaponics and the Aquaponics Association over the last 6+ years. He’ll also talk about the next frontier of industry growth, aquaponics business ideas, and the proven Ouroboros business model.
Participants will hear what it takes to run a commercial farm, how to approach restaurants, and more about the educational opportunities we provide in both aquaponics and general agricultural methods.
Ken is also interested in how we can all work together to ensure that aquaponics has a bight and profitable future… Teamwork!

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.

Aquaponics History in the Making!

Aquaponics History in the Making!

To date, collaborative aquaponics work in Europe has been conducted under the umbrella of the EU Aquaponics Hub of the European COST program which is coming to an end this year. Practitioners needed a new organization to continue collaborating and sought the advice of the Aquaponics Association of the U.S.

At the end of the conference the top brains got together to plan the next step, and the EU Aquaponics Association was born!

The attendees appointed Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir from the University of Iceland to be the initial chair of the Association.

 

When the day was over we gathered to celebrate, and the EU growers proved they can party just as well as us in the U.S.

Many attendees of the EU conference expressed interest in attending the U.S. conference in Hartford, CT this September 21-23. Last year in Portland, OR we had representatives from over 10 countries, maybe we can beat that this year in Hartford?

Get your tickets today!