Community Aquaponics Discussions, Theme #2: Location Considerations

In the first post of this series, we described what we mean by “Community Aquaponics”. Then, we identified the first of three themes from the Community Aquaponics breakout discussion groups: Community Involvement. In this post, we look at the second theme identified by the Community breakout discussion groups:

Location Considerations

By Tawnya Sawyer

There are so many creative locations that have already proven successful for community aquaponics. Some of those include: roof tops, community gardens and community centers, schools, universities and early childhood education centers, orphanages, food banks, homeless shelters, places of worship, detention centers, housing developments, villages and many more. Some of these locations enjoy the fresh food options and can use the aquaponic system as a means for education, nutrition, self-reliance, job skill training and food production.  Planning the proper location is a critical first step (prior to construction), to ensure that the system can be operated in the selected location long term. Some considerations for success include:

–Ensure that the greenhouse, community garden or aquaponic system is allowed to be operated within the city, county or zoning where it is being planned;

–Make sure that the location has adequate sunlight (southern facing), access to water, electricity, as well as necessary temperature and humidity controls (heating in winter if cold climate, and cooling in summer);

–Develop a partnership or leasehold agreement if the system will be installed in someone else’s building or property; and

–Consider any additional insurance, taxes, utilities and other expenses might be incurred where the system will be located.

Stay tuned to hear the last theme our discussion groups identified.

Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association

 

Community Aquaponics Discussions, Theme #1: Community Involvement

In the first post of this series, we described what we mean by “Community Aquaponics”. In this post, we talk about the first of three themes identified by the Community breakout discussion groups at our 2018 Hartford conference.

By Tawnya Sawyer

Community Involvement

Getting the community involved in building and operating a garden and aquaponic system can be a challenge. Since aquaponics requires continuous involvement to monitor the equipment, feed the fish and maintain the plants, it is critical to have a key person take the lead on these management activities. Often people that are excited to get started, may have a difficult time committing long term. Community volunteers can assist in maintaining the system, but without a strong lead, the system will be neglected. Some of the tactics discussed that have been implemented with success at various community aquaponic projects include:

  • Planning for and hiring a project lead or champion to manage the construction of the system. That same person(s) may also then be involved in daily operations once the system is up and running. There are examples of both paid and unpaid positions, ut the key is to ensure that some takes that ownership and responsibility. It is also necessary that they have the time and energy to commit to the necessary tasks.
  • Having a schedule, training and management of volunteers was necessary to ensure that everyone was participating, following food safety guidelines and working effectively together. Volunteer and intern activities were commonly coordinated by the farm manager person.
  • Having a means to get food or training to the community being served is necessary to meet people where they are. This has meant providing cooking classes, free samples, recipes, alternate forms of payment, different ways to pickup or deliver the food products, building trust and connections, and helping people value the quality of the food. Working with a community who has previously not had access to nutritious food is a learning curve and takes times to implement.

Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association

 

Community Aquaponics Discussions; Intro

By Tawnya Sawyer

The Hartford, CT Aquaponic Association conference included a Community aquaponics track for people to share their projects, stories and ideas on how aquaponics can create a positive outcome for communities, and also challenges that must be addressed to move forward. Having coordinated, presented, and attended the Community conference tracks since 2011, I continue to be impressed and inspired with the quality of the information.

Community aquaponics is all about getting highly nutritious food directly to the consumer without the hundreds to thousands of “food miles” or distance from farm to the table. Obviously this has become a popular concept in urban gardening and farming. But aquaponics can do this even better since an aquaponic system can be setup in a parking lot, repurposed in an old building, shed, barn, garage or greenhouse.

Community aquaponics is generally considered growing food for the purpose of serving a specific location or group of people. This may be for profit or non-profit oriented. Community aquaponics often has an open-door policy, meaning they encourage participation from volunteers, interns, schools, and the general public. They may have access to different funding methods that wouldn’t normally be available to someone building aquaponics for themselves or as a business. Some community aquaponics visions have been very altruistic, seeking to help others by all means, but those that have been successful have recognized the importance of operating like a business and ensuring they can be financially viable.

In the next three segments, we’ll discuss in more detail the top three themes that conference participants identified in community aquaponics: community involvement, location considerations, and financial challenges.

Tawnya Sawyer is the Director of Colorado Aquaponics and a Board Member of the Aquaponics Association

New Report Sets Targets for Global Sustainable Food Production

A new report from the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet, and Health offers scientific targets for global sustainable food production. The report also conveys an urgent need to change the way we produce our food.

See the report:  EAT Lancet Report

The EAT-Lancet Commission sets quantifiable targets for change, like reducing food system carbon dioxide emissions 2020. Researchers believe these parameters will return the food system to within sustainable planetary limits.

Reports such as the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet, and Health demonstrate the need for more efficient food production methods like aquaponics. Aquaponic growers around the world have proven we can grow fresh produce and healthy fish from barren deserts to urban rooftops. Aquaponics uses over 90% less water than traditional soil culture, does not emit toxic agricultural runoff, and does not require synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, or fertilizers.

Please see similar resources that call for a change in our food production system:

TEEB Agrifood

True Cost Accounting – Sustainable Food Trust

email: info@aquaponicsassociation.org

PODCAST – Assoc Chairman Talks Aquaponics’ Future

Aquaponics Association Chairman Brian Filipowich discusses the future of aquaponics with Lee Rinehart of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Listen to the podcast from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT):

 Aquaponics, a Primer

full link to podcast: https://attra.ncat.org/category/audio/

Farm Bill Creates Office for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production

By Brian Filipowich

The 2018 Farm Bill (H.R.2) passed both the House and Senate and will be signed into law by the President imminently. The Bill creates the USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production which should boost aquaponics, hydroponics, and other sustainable growing methods.

The Bill establishes the Office “to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production
practices.” Related to this new Office, the Bill:

  • Provides for the assignment of a farm number for rooftop, indoor, and other urban farms.
  • Provides authority to award competitive grants to operate community gardens or
    nonprofit farms, educate a community on food systems, nutrition, environmental impacts,
    and agricultural production, and help offset start-up costs for new and beginning farmers.
  • Establishes an Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Advisory Committee.
  • Establishes pilot projects to increase compost and reduce food waste, and create urban
    and suburban county committees.

In addition to the Office for Urban Agriculture, the Farm Bill also establishes the Urban, Indoor, and Other Emerging Agriculture Production Research, Education, and Extension Initiative. This Initiative does the following:

  • Authorizes competitive research and extension grants to support research, education, and
    extension activities for the purposes of enhancing urban, indoor, and other emerging
    agricultural production.
  • Provides $4 million mandatory for each fiscal year 2019-2023.
  • Requires the Secretary to conduct a census of urban, indoor, and other emerging
    agricultural production.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of bad along with the good: this Farm Bill continues negative policies that stifle smaller growers and wastefully support large industrial monoculture growers. Nevertheless, it is welcome to see the Federal Government acknowledging the need for investment in urban and sustainable growing.

Hopefully the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production can meaningfully support the expansion of aquaponics!

Brian Filipowich serves as Chairman of the Aquaponics Association

Commercial Aquaponics Breakout Discussions

By John Roe

This year at our Putting Up Shoots conference in Hartford, Connecticut, I was fortunate to participate in a lively, encouraging, open discussion group entitled, “Overcoming Common Problems in Commercial Aquaponics”.  The thesis of the discussion was centered around answering common pitfalls, problems, and other hardships that have the potential to hinder aquaponics commercial operations in their infancy.  

The round table style discussion featured prominent commercial grower, Ken Armstrong from Ouroboros Farms, who generously opened his knowledge bank to help answer any questions asked from the room.  The discussion took place in three parts, over three days, with the group seeking to crowd fund ideas and shared personal experiences in overcoming common hardships.  The questions ranged from topics such as selecting real estate to helpful websites.  The group was fortunate to have most of their questions answered either from Ken Armstrong or another participant.

The thought behind a simple discussion group such as this was to build out a framework that will help growers that are hopeful to become commercial but have limitations, fears, or setbacks for any number of reasons.  We know, at the Association, that the future of aquaponics depends largely on a freshman class of commercial growers who seek to continue to build out our footprint nationally, help their communities locally, and to survive the hardships of any agrarian business.  The more we are able to help one another succeed, the better off we all will be.  This discussion was at the very heart of this message.

Recap of 2018 Hartford Aquaponic Tours

Recap of 2018 Hartford Aquaponic Tours

By Tawnya Sawyer      

Every year, aquaponic tours are a highlight of the Aquaponics Association Conference. This year’s Putting Up Shoots Conference in Hartford, CT included tours of three very different aquaponic systems: one hobby-homestead system growing into a commercial-scale farm, one community center with sustainability at the core, and one repurposed warehouse building with visions of creating the City that Feeds Itself.

Bigelow Brook Farm located at Rob Torcellini’s homestead has been a virtual community model for years. By sharing stories of construction, planting, harvesting, fish health, and many successes and failures, Rob has empowered people all over the planet with his aquaponic system. For years across the world wide web, we have grown with Rob in his geodesic dome. We have learned to install a window kit into a fish tank (scary at first to cut a big hole in a tank, but not really that difficult once you know the steps.) We have learned the do’s and don’ts of heating, and lots of other key steps in operating aquaponics. At the tour, Rob had the opportunity to showcase his new greenhouse nearing completion. He described the components of his filtration system, RaftMaster deep water culture structure, cool wireless sensor systems, and Growgrips. Rob plans to be a key part of the local food system, delivering food and offering tours and education within the surrounding community. We look forward to many more of Rob’s videos and seeing his new commercial greenhouse up and growing.

Keney Park Sustainability Project on Saturday was a great representation of blending soil gardening and indoor greenhouse aquaponic growing, with so much more. This project really took “community” to the next level with its urban park land and environmental stewardship, children and family programs, job skills training, nutrition, health and wellness, farm stands and a mobile market. Herb Virgo who led the tours and leads the charge in the program, really shined the light on the importance and value of community programs like this. The greenhouses were home to goldfish and koi, while they were growing a variety of leafy greens in towers, NFT (nutrient film technique), and media beds. The abundance continued outdoors where there were raised gardens, mushroom production, bees, and lots of open space for community education and engagement. Keney Park is a wonderful inspiration to many who see the vision of urban farming and community engagement in their home town.

Trifecta EcoSystems was the final tour. Located in an older repurposed warehouse building, this aquaponic system highlights indoor crop production rivaling an outdoor commercial farm. As their mission states, “With aquaponics, we’re empowering communities to grow their own food while inspiring future generations to play an active role in our world’s food system.” The Trifecta team lives this community model working to revitalize the area and promote “The City that Feeds Itself”. Trifecta uses deep water culture to produce a variety of cooking and salad greens, which are delivered to local restaurants, and farmers markets. They also provide educational programs and innovate through research and development. While indoor growing has seen its share of challenges, Trifecta is blazing the trail for growing food in an otherwise barren warehouse space. We need more models like Trifecta’s for local food production.

Where we will be in 2019!?

We are looking forward to the 2019 Aquaponic Association Conference and more exciting aquaponic tour locations. Association Members, please make sure to participate in the current survey (via email) so that your voice can be heard in where you think the conference should be hosted in September, 2019!

Tawnya Sawyer is the Manager of Flourish Farm (CO) and serves on the Aquaponics Association Board of Governors

 

Some more tour photos:

Fish at Bigelow Brook Farm

Plants in Bigelow Brook Farm Geodesic Dome

Keney Park Sustainability Project

Trifecta Ecosystems, aquaponics in an old factory

Trifecta Ecosystems

Keney Park Sustainability Project

Climate Change Report Highlights the Need for Aquaponics

By Brian Filipowich

The U.S. Government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (November, 2018) highlights the need to adopt aquaponics at a large scale nationwide.

The report states: “over the next few decades, overall, yields from major U.S. crops are expected to decline as a consequence of increases in temperatures and possibly changes in water availability, soil erosion, and disease and pest outbreaks”; furthermore: “[c]limate change is also expected to lead to large-scale shifts in the availability and prices of many agricultural products across the world, with corresponding impacts on U.S. agricultural producers and the U.S. economy.”

So how can aquaponics help?

Aquaponics is a method of growing fish and plants in efficient, recirculating systems. Aquaponics does not require soil, and is practiced across the nation from cities to deserts. The ability to grow food anywhere allows all regions of the U.S. to create their own food supply without relying on long-distance, carbon-intensive food transport.

Aquaponics requires over 90% less water than traditional soil growth, making production far less susceptible to water shortages.

Aquaponics does not require synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics.

Also, aquaponic systems not only produce fruits and vegetables, but also edible fish — an extremely efficient source of healthy protein that can be grown in any environment.

Unfortunately, the U.S. economy is not set up to incentivise efficient food production methods like aquaponics, hydroponics, and vertical agriculture. A free market economy is based on producers incorporating all costs of production into the prices for goods. But certain costs of agriculture are not realized at the time of production and are passed to other parties or future generations, creating artificially low prices for inefficient goods.

Modern large-scale agriculture uses excessive amounts of water, carbon, pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers. These elements create enormous costs passed to others such as climate change adaptation, healthcare costs, food waste, antibiotic resistance, and toxic nutrient runoff.

Conversely, aquaponic systems can grow much more efficiently, but without a means to monetize this efficiency.

The U.S. Government Climate Report highlights the need to change the current system: “[n]umerous adaptation strategies are available to cope with adverse impacts of climate variability and change on agricultural production. These include altering what is produced, modifying the inputs used for production, adopting new technologies, and adjusting management strategies.”

It will take a large-scale, concerted nationwide effort to change the way we incentivize food production. Until that point, our economic system will steer consumers towards produce that adds to the problem of climate change, and is less able to adapt to climate change.

Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/23/health/climate-change-report-bn/index.html?no-st=1543264267

 

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.