Santa Fe CC Uses Aquaponics to Feed the Community During Pandemic

By Charlie Shultz

Like all schools across the nation, Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) was thrown into a tidal wave of confusion about how to move into a new paradigm of education, food production, and distribution by the coronavirus.

We teach one of the few Aquaponic accredited courses at the college level and we were in the middle of our Advanced Aquaponics semester. Two classes of students had started managing a diverse mix of balanced aquaponic systems on campus.

Students spent the weeks before Spring Break breaking down existing systems, gathering baseline data, and rebooting systems. Transplants had just gone in, then the virus began to spread and SFCC determined students could not return to campus for the remainder of the semester. Fortunately, most of our students had plenty of hands-on experience, then all class reverted instantly to an online format.

At the same time, the commercial hydroponic and aquaponic systems at SFCC were in full production. Food was being used in the campus cafeteria and the culinary department. As of late March, these outlets closed and there was no demand for our produce on campus. It has been 3 weeks since our shutdown and we have not stopped producing food. Currently, we are actually beginning to ramp up production for the needs of our community.

Our local mayor began an initiative to get food producers together as a collective and we are currently setting up centralized food distribution across Santa Fe for those in need. With so many out of work, and kids out of school, the demand for food resulted in the mayor approaching SFCC for help. Today was our first pickup from the city distribution program.

With information obtained from the GAP workshop at the 2019 AA conference, we have a good understanding of food safety procedures. We have developed strict protocols around our facility and have limited distancing to adhere to our government’s guidelines. We keep a 6 foot distance minimum between workers, limit to under 5 people at the facility at any one time, we always wear protective eyewear and gloves and we sanitize all surfaces, repeatedly throughout the day.

Early in the semester we had a student internship project develop into a marketing/food delivery project for the community. Twenty-five households per week were going to receive a free delivery of a fresh produce box, another 25 the following week and so on in exchange for survey input as a market study. Many of you know Nate Downey from the 2019 AA conference in Kentucky. We recently pleaded with our school president to let Nate continue his project through this unique time. He was granted permission to continue and his project of deliveries begins tomorrow! We all have our Food Handlers Certifications and will continue to keep our food safe for the public.

These are unique times and the education component certainly cannot be converted to all online. Our students need to go through fish and plant cycles from seed to harvest. Online content can be accomplished for the theory, but students cannot be proficient at aquaponics without getting to know the systems, and the biology, and manage those aspects daily.

Readers can follow our program updates on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/sfccgreenhouse/ and more about Nate’s project can be found at https://www.lettuceetc.com/

Charlie Shultz is the Lead Faculty for Santa Fe Community College’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Program

Do you want to write a short article to share your personal story?

Do you have an interesting story about how COVID-19 is affecting your aquaponics? Do you want to share it with the aquaponics community on the Aquaponics Association’s social media?

Are you expanding your system? Changing what you grow for friends and family? Sourcing fish in your local pond? Instructing the Elementary School maintenance staff via telephone how to buffer pH?

Tell us in under 500 words and please include at least two pictures of your aquaponic setup. We will post your stories. Your stories help us all reach new audiences for aquaponics!

Commercial Growers Hit Hard By Coronavirus

Two weeks ago we sent a short, informal survey asking how the lockdown conditions are affecting aquaponic growers. This article provides the results from commercial aquaponic growers.

By Brian Filipowich

Commercial aquaponic growers have been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown. We received about 25 survey responses from commercial growers and about two-thirds said their business decreased by over 50% or completely shut down.

About one-third of growers said they have had success shifting their sales from restaurants to local markets or deliveries. One farm even said their business has now expanded.

Several growers said that the lockdown affected business plans or government proceedings that were already underway. And several said they are already seeing some supply shortages, and fear more.

Quotes:

  • “Weekly produce orders have increased as many of my clients have chosen not to travel outside of their homes to purchase food. (I operate a customizable CSA) I am currently contemplating how much extra produce to grow this summer in my traditional soil garden.” – Aquatic Gardens

  • “Growing: no impact yet, although we’ve had to temporarily suspend 50% of our staff. This will eventually translate to longer cycles. Selling: All hotel and most restaurant business suspended. Consumer purchasing direct from farm increased, but not yet significantly. Pivoting to pop-up sales in the community and farm-to-porch sales.” ETX Aquaponics

  • “We are continuing to grow and allowing texts orders with touchless payment options we then take the goods outside for pick up.” – Bella Vita Farm

  • “Getting tons of request for fish of all sizes, sold out of hatchery size fish last couple days and now selling larger fish! Can’t supply all requests!” – Future Food Farms

  • “Trying to get organic certified and expand but gov. offices are closed.” – Double Diamond Aquaponics Farm

  • “Over the weekend we lost 90% to 95% of our market as almost every restaurant and country club closed operations.” – [withheld]
  • “Lost 90% of my business overnight” – [withheld]
  • “I only sell to restaurants and they are closed so my business has been shut down” – [withheld]
  • “We are completely unable to sell any of our fish because of state and federal lock downs. No sales what so ever! We have good demand we have good supply but with social distancing because of the corona virus we are unable to host fish sales” – [withheld]

Stay tuned for responses from research, STEM education, community, and personal growers.

Help us spread the message!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

 

Coronavirus Shows the Importance of Local, Efficient Agriculture

Aquaponic system at the University of the District of Columbia

By Brian Filipowich

The coronavirus outbreak is already disrupting international travel and trade. The pandemic could impact the global food supply chain and leave some populations without adequate nutrition.

This pandemic shows that we need to invest in local agriculture to boost our supply of local, reliable food. Aquaponics, hydroponics, and controlled-environment agriculture can produce large amounts of food with minimal space and resources. These water-based growing methods do not require soil and can be practiced from arid deserts to urban rooftops.

Hidden Cost of the Global Food Supply Chain

Our modern food system involves long travel distances and several steps along the supply chain. The average head of lettuce in the U.S. travels approximately 1,500 miles. Over 90% of our seafood is imported.

The coronavirus is exposing one major hidden cost of our global system: it is at risk from disruptions like pandemics, extreme weather events, military events, and economic or political upheavals. As the climate changes, these extreme events are more likely.

How does this hidden cost of the global food supply chain manifest itself?

An american consumer can find similar prices for a tomato grown 100 miles away and a tomato grown in another country 2,000 miles away. But during a global travel ban or category 5 hurricane, your local tomato will still be there. How do we account for this benefit during the good times, so that there are enough local growers to support us during possible disruptions?

Aquaponics, Hydroponics, and Controlled-Environment Agriculture

The problem is that with a changing climate, water shortages, and growing population, there is less land to grow for more people. Deserts, freezing climates, and urban areas do not have the arable soil to grow a meaningful amount of their own food to achieve food security.

Aquaponics is a food production method integrating fish and plants in a closed, soil-less system. This symbiotic relationship mimics the biological cycles found in nature. Benefits include dramatically less water use; no toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides; and no agriculture discharge to air, water or soil.

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water-based systems with externally supplied nutrients.

Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) is the practice of raising crops in a protected, optimal environment like a greenhouse.

These growing methods maximize the amount of crops that can be produced per square area per year. Plants can be grown densely and quickly because conditions are ideal and roots are delivered exactly what they need. And controlled-environments allow for year-round production.

Aquaponics brings the added benefit of fish – an efficient supply of animal protein. It takes 30 pounds of feed to produce a one-pound steak, only 2 pounds for a one-pound tilapia filet. Fish can be grown densely and indoors, compared to the large operations required for beef, pork, and poultry.

Economies across the globe must find ways to value the hidden benefits of local, efficient agriculture to encourage more local growing. There will always be another coronavirus-type event, let’s make sure we have a reliable supply of local food for it.

Food Safety Presentation from Aquaculture America

Photo: East Fork Creek Gardens, a Member of the Aquaponics Association

At the Aquaculture America Conference this month, Aquaponics Association Members Charlie Shultz and Dr. Nick Savidov delivered a presentation on aquaponics food safety: Good Agricultural Practice for Aquaponic Produce and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification, 2020 Update.

The presentation reviews the current state of Good Agriculture Practices (G.A.P.) for aquaponics and also discusses recent developments in aquaponics food safety.

For more information on aquaponics food safety, read the 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement, signed by over 130 farms and organizations.

The Aquaculture America conference was held in Honolulu, HI, and featured a day of aquaponics workshops and presentations.

 

Will you help us grow Aquaponics!

Are you interested in supporting the Aquaponics Association so we can speak with one voice on food safety issues?

Please consider an Association Membership!

Your $60 Membership Fee helps to grow Aquaponics!

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public and policy-makers about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Online learning opportunities like webinars and conference videos to improve growers’ skills and reach new growers
  • Infrastructure to connect growers, suppliers, advocates, educators, and funders from around the world
  • Annual conference for growers to connect face-to-face and build community
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety, and agriculture policy
  • Resources and strategic partnerships to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: Aquaponics Association Membership

 

TrueNute Nutrient Management Services

 

Check out a great service from True Aquaponics, an Affiliate Member of the Aquaponics Association. The Aquaponics Association Affiliate Program allows aquaponics businesses and institutions to spread the latest products, services, classes, and events!

Are you having nutrient issues with your commercial aquaponic system? Unsure what deficiency you have and what to dose to fix it? Worried about whether or not you or your farm manager dosed nutrients properly? Do you need to balance the nutrients your plants have available to them?  Want to maximize ROI of your produce?

TrueNute Nutrient Management Service is here to help!

With TrueNute Nutrient Management Service you simply pay a monthly fee, send in your water to be tested. We then use that data to custom formulate a nutrient/mineral solution that you simply cut open and add to your system to re-balance your aquaponic system and maximized both yields and pest resistance. This service is already helping many farmers across North America get the best production possible for their farms and it will help your aquaponics farm too!

For more information follow the link below:

https://trueaquaponics.com/pages/truenute-nutrient-management-service

If you have any questions, please email us at truenute@gmail.com or shoot us a text at 214-489-2311

USDA Grants Call for Aquaponics

Kentucky State University, 2019 Aquaponics Conference

By Brian Filipowich

Major Federal Grants have recently been published that can apply to aquaponics growers. USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Grants will disburse $192 Million for FY2020 across several different programs and specifically call for aquaponics and hydroponics projects.

Due dates for grant applications range from March 12 to May 28, 2020, depending on the project. The AFRI program is intended to invest in research, education, and extension projects that support more sustainable, productive, and economically viable agricultural systems.

Click here for AFRI Request for Applications.

Aquaponics projects can fit into multiple programs within the Grant, including:

  • Foundational Knowledge of Agricultural Production Systems
  • Pests and Beneficial Species in Agricultural Production Systems
  • Small- and Medium-Sized Farms
  • Water Quantity and Quality

Separately, USDA Aquaculture Research Grants have also been published. These grants total $1.2 Million. The due date is April 22, 2020.

Click here for Aquaculture Request for Application.

The USDA Aquaculture Program supports the development of an environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture industry in the U.S. and generate new science-based information and innovation to address industry constraints.

Given that over 90% of U.S. seafood is imported, and seafood is a much more efficient source of animal protein than than beef, pork, and poultry, you’d think we need to invest more in aquaculture and aquaponics!

 

Aquaponics at Aquaculture America, Honolulu, HI

Aquaculture America is coming up Feb 9-12 in Honolulu, HI.

The Aquaponics sessions at the Conference will be Feb 10 from 11am-5pm; and Feb 11 from 10:30am to 12:30pm. There will be over 30 presentations on all aspects of aquaponics.

Aquaponics Engineer Huy Tran noted that aquaponics is growing rapidly; a few years ago at the Aquaculture America Conference there were only 4 aquaponics presentations.

On behalf of the Aquaponics Association, Dr. Nick Savidov and Charlie Shultz will present “Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for Aquaponic Produce and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification, 2020 Update.” A special thanks to Meg Stout for spearheading that presentation.

Partnership with Indoor Ag Con

The Aquaponics Association is proud to partner with Indoor Ag Con in support of their upcoming conference. Themed “Growing the Future,” the 2020 edition of Indoor Ag-Con will be the showplace for robotics, automation, AI, breaking technology trends and product innovation.

Aquaponics Association Board of Directors Member and Treasurer Claudia Andracki will join the full line-up of industry experts, thought leaders and executives leading programs across three tracks: Business; Science & Technology; and Alternative Crops. Ms. Andracki is the owner of Desert Bloom Eco Farm, a solar-powered farm one hour outside of Las Vegas.

Ms. Andracki will join the panel discussion “The Latest Developments In Aquaponics” on opening day, May 18 from 9 – 9:45 am. Click here for a sneak preview of confirmed speakers. Click here for a sneak preview of the conference schedule in development.

As part of the Aquaponics Association industry alliance with Indoor Ag-Con, Association Members can save
an additional $100 off the Early Bird registration rate for the upcoming May 18-20, 2020 edition at the Wynn Las Vegas, and save up to $400 off the regular full conference pass rate for the premier trade event for the indoor & vertical farming industry. Members, stay tuned for an email from us with the Promo Code.

As part of the partnership, Indoor Ag Con will become an Affiliate Member of the Aquaponics Association.

Click here to learn more about Indoor Ag Con.

Aquaponics Can Reduce Food Miles

By Brian Filipowich

Long travel distances for our food lead to excessive carbon use, energy use for refrigeration, food spoilage, nutrient depletion, and poorer food security.

Aquaponics – and other controlled-environment growing techniques like hydroponics and aeroponics – can greatly reduce the distance food travels from farm to plate.

For the first time ever, researchers recently attempted to map out the entire U.S. food supply chain. The resulting map, above, shows an intricate web of food moving across the country. The full report is public and can be found here: Food flows between counties of the United States (Lin, 2019)

The map illustrates that our food travels long distances before it reaches our plate. “Food miles” is the measurement that tracks the actual distance food travels from farm to plate.

“Studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels over 1,300 miles, and fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles, before being consumed.” (ATTRA, 2008)

One reason for high food miles is because most food requires a large amount of open land and arable soil, and requires a specific climate to be grown at a large scale. Only certain parts of the country meet this criteria, and these areas must transport food long distances to reach all U.S. consumers. The map to the right shows the nine counties in the U.S. (highlighted in red) from which most food originates.

But aquaponics – and other modern growing methods like hydroponics and aeroponics – are water-based and do not require large amounts of arable soil. Also, these modern growing methods are usually practiced in “controlled-environments” like greenhouses that maintain ideal growing environments for plants throughout the entire year.

Aquaponic systems that raise edible fish can further reduce food miles by cutting down on the distance needed to transport the animal protein in our diets. The demand for animal protein is expected to rise along with world population growth. But farms that raise beef, pork, and poultry need large tracts of land far from population centers. Conversely, aquaponics and other recirculating aquaculture operations can raise fish in urban or suburban areas. And, because fish have a much more efficient feed conversion ratio than land animals, less feed stock needs to be grown and shipped, further increasing efficiency.

To read more about food miles, see Food Miles, Background and Marketing from ATTRA.

One often-overlooked benefit of local food is greater food security. Our complex web of food is susceptible to systemic shocks such as weather or disaster events. In extreme cases, disruptions could make it difficult to get enough food to a certain population. A greater proportion of local food allows areas to be better-prepared in cases of unexpected events.

But, before we assume that all food miles are bad, more research is needed to measure the tradeoffs between local and long-distance. For instance, studies show that it’s often more efficient to import fruits from distant warmer climates than to heat a local greenhouse in the winter.

More needs to be done to evaluate, quantify, and account for the hidden costs of our food system, including food miles. Analytic tools such as True Cost Accounting, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) create a more complete picture of the true cost of a product. LCA takes into account the costs of a product’s entire life cycle: production, processing, packaging, transport, use, and final disposal. LCA uses indicators not traditionally captured in a product’s market price, such as resource depletion, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, human health impacts, and waste generation.

Analytic tools like LCA can uncover the true cost of shipping foods long distances and incentivize local agriculture. Aquaponic and hydroponic growers will benefit because – without the need for soil – they can get as close to consumers as possible. The result will be fresher food, less strain on the planet, and local economic growth!

 

SAVE THE DATE: Tulsa, Oklahoma September 25-27

ANNUAL CONFERENCE SAVE THE DATE

The Aquaponics Association is excited to announce that we will hold our annual conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma from September 25 – 27! Stay tuned for much more info and tickets within a few weeks.

2019 PRESENTATIONS AVAILABLE FOR MEMBERS

Did you know that Aquaponics Association Members have free access to the conference slide decks from last year’s conference at Kentucky State University? Click here to learn about Membership and access these informative presentations from experienced growers.

Members, to access the slides you can go to the main Members Area and look under Member Content, click “2019 Conference Slide Decks”.

ORGANICS WEBINAR

Tickets are one sale for the Organics Made Simple Webinar starting February 5, led by Juli Ogden. This webinar will give you everything you need to know to get your aquaponic or hydroponic farm certified Organic!

Congress Funds Office of Urban & Innovative Agriculture

By Brian Filipowich

The new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production created by the 2018 Farm Bill had been sitting in limbo for the past year. The USDA declined to establish it without dedicated funding from Congress.

On December 20, 2019, the President signed into law H.R. 1865, The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. The Law includes $5 million for the Office.

The Mission of the Office is to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices, including:

  • community gardens and farms located in urban areas, suburbs, and urban clusters;
  • rooftop farms, outdoor vertical production, and green walls;
  • indoor farms, greenhouses, and high-tech vertical technology farms; and
  • hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic farm facilities.

The Office will disburse $10 million in grants before 2023 intended to “facilitate urban agricultural production, harvesting, transportation, and marketing.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was the main sponsor of the new Office, and was responsible adding it to the 2018 Farm Bill. This past Fall, Senator Stabenow introduced an amendment to appropriate the $5 million to fund it.

The next step is to establish the Advisory Committee that will guide the establishment of the Office. The Committee is to be composed of 12 individuals from various sectors of the urban and innovative ag field.

The Farm Bill directed the establishment of the advisory committee by Summer, 2019. The USDA missed the target date because of the lack of funding and the USDA’s major relocation project from Washington, DC to Kansas City, MO, which “has resulted in catastrophic attrition at USDA’s top research agencies.”

Hopefully, with the new funding, the USDA can establish the Office soon.