Community Collaboration and Partnership: Takeaways from the 2019 Putting Out Fruits Conference

FoodChain nonprofit Aquaponic Farm serving foodbanks in Lexington, KY; Putting Out Fruits Conference Tour

By: Kate Wildrick, Strategic Advisor / Community Builder 

As the sun gently warmed the rolling hillsides surrounding the KSU Organics Research Facility, I watched as several new and familiar faces entered the building eager to learn and connect with others.  The annual Aquaponics Association’s Conference focused on showcasing how the movement was growing and expanding while seeding new opportunities to generate fruitful results. The theme of “Putting Out Fruits” built on previous conference themes around the industry’s roots and the growth of new science and research, applications of aquaponics and community endeavors.  

With a sold-out venue, the halls were brimming with enthusiasm and conversation.  It soon shifted as people made their way into one of three spaces where sessions focused around STEM / Education; Commercial; and Community topics.  

“It is time for your session,” my colleague reminded me.  

Picking up my notebook, I shuffled through the halls to the Community room.  In an effort to start up the dialogue around all of the wonderful ways in which aquaponics can build community, I noticed that our room had a lot of empty seats that continued to fill. Taking note, we launched into a community discussion with three panelists that included Murray Hallam, Practical Aquaponics; Juli Ogden, The Farm Plan; and Mac McLeon, an innovator of growing aquaponics projects and farms in the prison system.  Together, we opened up the discussion to explore how each of their unique work in education, food safety and workforce development could lend itself to cultivating new opportunities not only for partnership but to also help solve and remove some of the barriers that are holding the industry back.  

During our time together, we made powerful connections.  As each participant shared who they are and what they saw as challenges and opportunities in the aquaponic industry, we shifted the dialogue into looking at how community partnership could help serve as a tool.

Keney Park Sustainability Project in Hartford, CT; Putting Up Shoots Conference Tour

Together, we began to explore the hot topic of food safety. Using the recent ruling with the Canada GAP certification looking to not certify aquaponic farms, Juli Ogden explained the logical solution of simply replacing CanadaGAP with GLOBALG.A.P..  We dove into how community partnerships could play a role in the gathering and sharing of research and information to help educate others inside and outside the aquaponic industry. Food safety touches every aspect of aquaponics from design and construction, workforce training and development and market viability.   In our discussion, it was clear that there was a blatant need for more research; industry standards; and continued training and education to ensure that aquaponics as an industry can continue to grow and expand.

Mr. McLeon shared how his relationships within the prison system could open the door for big community collaboration projects to emerge.  Working within the prisons, research and development could be done in partnership with higher education. Developing a partnership between the two could open up doors to not only gathering information and data, but analysis and evaluation by academics to help advance the industry.  Connections were also made around how workforce training and development can also happen within the prison system to help offenders build new and marketable skills to help them transition after they are released. Training programs, such as Mr. Hallam’s aquaponic curriculum (already nationally accredited by Australia), could help provide a baseline for workforce competencies. As each panelist contributed to what these partnerships could do, others in the audience who had community based aquaponic projects also connected how they could participate in helping offenders transition into paid employment.

Aquaponics at the Mississauga Food Bank in Canada

The second community session focused on a group discussion around what the Aquaponics Association could be doing to help advance and grow community solutions.  There were many takeaways from our time together that had definitely been sparked by the first discussion. The top three included:

  1. Provide more opportunities for other community-based/driven aquaponic models to participate in the conferences.  The suggestions included having a special community priced booth to bring awareness to local, domestic and international endeavors and provide ways for people to get involved.  These packages could help NGO’s, non-profits and benefit companies.
  2. Create a better virtual space and way for people to connect their projects, mission and vision within the aquaponics community to help mobilize resources.
  3. Bring more awareness to the other members in the Aquaponic Association to help grow the Community space.  Suggestions included featuring how partnerships can help solve our growing challenges and also showcase who is working on what issues while communicating how to get involved.

With 2019 coming to a close, I look forward to seeing how these recommendations will help shape, grow and influence our members and our community together.  More importantly, I look forward to seeing more community participants in next year’s conference increase.

Do you have ideas for how the Aquaponics Association can boost Community Aquaponics?

October Aquaponics News Roundup

Sick of the same old TV shows? You’re in luck! It’s the Aquaponics News Roundup! The fishtank pictured above is from FoodChain in Lexington, KY, a non-profit aquaponic farm we toured at the September Putting Out Fruits Conference. Now for the news…

A lot’s happening in the world of aquaponics! This installment of the News Roundup is focused on a non-profit’s mission to support disenfranchised youth, a look at how the industry can broaden food access in urban areas, and a corporate grant awarded to support a K-12 aquaponic initiatives.

INMED Partnerships for Children teams up with the Paxton Campus in Loudoun Country, Virginia to create an educational, aquaponic greenhouse: https://modernfarmer.com/2019/10/phoenix-looks-to-snuff-out-food-deserts/

In looking to mitigate food deserts, Phoenix, Arizona contemplates the role that aquaponic initiatives can serve in its long-term plan to transform the local food economy: https://modernfarmer.com/2019/10/phoenix-looks-to-snuff-out-food-deserts/

The Moon Area School District wins a $100,000 grant from Schneider Electric’s ‘K-12 Bold Ideas’ contest: https://modernfarmer.com/2019/10/phoenix-looks-to-snuff-out-food-deserts/

Tune in next time!

KSU Aquaculture Research Center Tour

Saturday afternoon of the Putting Out Fruits Conference, participants will split into groups and rotate through multiple sites and demonstrations at the Kentucky State University Aquaculture Research Center. These stations include:

-The Aquaponics Demonstration Greenhouse;
-Fish Disease Overview;
-Insect and Pest Management Demonstration;
-Saltwater Shrimp Tour;
-Fish Processing Tutorial;
-Hatchery and Ponds Tour; and
-Replicated Aquaponics Research Tour.

For info about vendor tables or general tickets, head to the Putting Out Fruits Conference Homepage.

Are you interested in supporting free and discounted conference tickets for STEM educators, students, non-profits, and community growers? Please lend a hand with a Putting Out Fruits Sponsorship! Sponsorships start as low as $250 and go a long way to making the Conference accessible to ALL Aquapioneers!

News Roundup: The Aquaponics Industry is Making Waves

Victory Aquaponics in NH
(Victory Aquaponics in NH)

The aquaponics industry is constantly adapting as it revolutionizes how, and where, local foods are produced. For this installment of the “News Roundup” we’re highlighting several interesting articles centered around industry leaders, crop diversification, and updates on the USDA’s support for this rapidly expanding sector.

Superior Fresh demonstrates aquaponics’ viability even in colder regions:
Aquaponic farmers are looking to join the cannabis movement:

That’s all for now, see you in a few weeks!

Global Aquaponic Practitioners Survey

A message from CITYFOOD at the University of Washington:

Hello Aquaponic Practitioners and Experts, help us fill in the GAPS by September 1st!

Please help us support the field of aquaponics by contributing to the Global Aquaponic Practitioners Survey

The CITYFOOD University of Washington team needs your help to empower this amazing field in producing sustainable healthy food! We are conducting an online survey of global aquaponic practitioners. Our work connects practitioners, researchers, and specialists to co-create the future of aquaponics and a vision of its connection with cities. Your support will help document production scale systems and you’ll receive an exclusive report for participating. This is a great opportunity to support to research that benefits and grows the aquaponics field.

The online survey takes only 15-20 minute to complete! All responses are confidential and cannot be traced back to an individual participant. However, together they will help paint a picture of the field’s success. We are looking forward to collaborating with you in the future to help support the aquaponic industry together!

CITYFOOD is an international, interdisciplinary project of collaborating aquaculture specialists, architects, and urban planners jointly supported by the US National Science Foundation and the EU Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative. We see aquaponics as a promising solution addressing the food, water, and energy challenges. If you would like to learn more about our project, please reach out to us at cityfood@uw.edu