Aquaponic Gardening

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Aloha, my wife and I operate a small commercial aquaponics farm on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our farm is called Coastview Aquaponics. The farm is about 1000 square feet of growing space, split between 3 systems. Our systems are mainly the raft method, but we are integrating gravel beds, vertical, and NTF into the mix. We primarily sell our produce to the neighborhood and what is leftover we take to a local health food store. We sell produce to the public 3 times a week. We invite the public to come to the farm and pick their produce directly out of the system. We sell our produce live(roots attached) whenever possible. Live plants do not need refrigeration if consumed within a week(as long as the foots are kept wet).  I guarantee my live produce to last 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
During our sales I give free farm tours and explain the relationship between the fish, the bacteria and the fish. I go out of my way to be sure everybody understands the concept. People leave the tours understanding that aquaponics is not just a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, but also a simple ecosystem in a man made container. We have the nitrogen cycle going on inside the systems.

Many months ago I started the organic certification process which I gave up, after a while, for many reasons.
  The term "organic" is a government regulated label. In order to use the label a farm has to be certified by an outside agency. These agencies charge a fee depending on the farm size or the amount of income brought in by the farm. This is on top of an application fee and the farm has to pay for the inspectors travel, food, and car when they come to inspect the farm. In Hawaii these expenses add up quickly! We decided that it was just tooo expensive of a process for a small farm like ours. We believe that "local grown" has as much, if not more, value as "certified organic" since most produce in the stores here is imported.
  Like anything that the government is involved in, the organic certification process is very complicated. The organic rules are very hard to read and understand. Reading the rules is similar to reading tax code. The organic application is similar to doing your own taxes. After several hours of working on our application I gave up in frustration.
  We have, to the best of our knowledge, built our systems with organically approved materials and we do not use any non approves substances in out growing process.

We gave up the organic process and decided to educate the public on the benefits of aquaponics. We believe that aquaponic is better than "certified organic" as it is a natural ecosystem and we think that the process is as organic as it gets. We cannot cheat and use most chemicals or use most pesticides, even the organically approved ones, as they will harm the fish and/or bacteria. Most people are horrified to learn that there are organic approved pesticides. There is a common beliefe that organic means pesticide free(not true).

Through education of the public we hope to get aquaponics held to a higher standard than "certified organic". All of us involved with aquaponics have an opportunity to educate on the benefits of the process and I would like to encourage you to do so. With enough public education on aquaponics it will not matter if the government makes aquaponics non "certifiable" in the future.

We need to come up with a better label for aquaponics and get away from "organic"

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Yea, organic and natural became such buzz words that many people simply equate those ideas with "safe and good."

It's sometimes hard reminding people that many of the deadliest poisons are quite organic and natural.

Environmentally, socially and genetically sustainable.

Chris Smith said:

There is a misconception that organic means pesticide free. NOT TRUE! There are a lot of organic approved pesticides. There are either plant based like neem or bugs fighting bugs like BT. I get at least one horrified person a week to learn this during my farm tours.

 

I am still trying to come up with a new label for aquaponics and remove us from the o word.

Genetically sustainable???
To me "genetically sustainable" is an interesting term that describes a plant's ability to reproduce it's genetic material in a way that it can sustain...heirloom varieties as opposed to seeds being created in a lab as a GMO, or even hybridized.  This is not to say that all GMOs or  hybridization programs are bad, but I think that an argument can certainly be made for the value to solving world hunger of being able to give an impoverished family a packet of seeds and having it reproduce itself true to form is huge.  Plus the tragic loss of genetic diversity in our food plant seed stock over the past 100 years is nothing short of frightening.
Rupert - GMO crops are causing major problems and as far as I am concerned, the genetics of farming, especially in terms of allowing someone to start in a remote location with a small supply of seeds and a strain of fish, and not make the operation perpetually dependent on seed or fish suppliers is very important.  Globalisation is a disease that totally corrupts the genetics of traditional crops of so many areas.  GM crops also have the very real possibility of "getting out" of a farming establishment and spreading outside of the cultivation zone very much like an alien invasive.  GMO side effects are also being picked up in people that eat them (such as foreign enzymes added to crops to make thewm more disease resistant.).  I believe that the future of many people's diet will include a concern about the make-up of what they are eating.  Now it is anti-biotics and steriods in meat, but soon, it will be problems down to the genetics of cultured species.   

RupertofOZ said:
Genetically sustainable???

No arguement with me in that regard Kobus... just wasn't sure exactly what you meant...

 

With regards to GM crops "getting out"... there's a current case in Western Australia where a farmer is suing his neighbour due to cross pollination of some of his crops which has resulted in the withdrawl of his "organic" certification...

 

Sadly he has to sue his neighbour, rather than Monsanto who supplied the "trial" crop seed... or the government that allowed it to proceed...

 

He should be thankful... Monsanto has a history of suing neighbouring farms for use illegal of "intellectual property".. after cross pollination events...

On another note.. rightly or wrongly... a group of greenpeace activists recently whipper-snippered an entire trial GM crop in Canberra... run by the government funded CSIRO....
I will also not get into right and wrong as technically, that was the destruction of someone else's property.  On the other hand, GM crops are not the only way to solve world production problems but places like Monsanto seem to be a law unto themselves about how they behave and shove their seeds in everyones face, whether you want it or not.  As you point out, they are also contaminating the world around them with no concern, putting the oil companies to shame (Imagine if BP counter-sued the US for putting wildlife near their oil spill).  I can understand that people get a little primitive in their response to them every now and then.......

RupertofOZ said:
On another note.. rightly or wrongly... a group of greenpeace activists recently whipper-snippered an entire trial GM crop in Canberra... run by the government funded CSIRO....

It is interesting that GMO crops are being discussed...not trying to cause trouble but this has been my biggest concern..the commercial food many (including myself at this time) are feeding the fish in aquaponics systems are very much likely to have come from GMO crops.

just a disclaimer- I do believe very much that education in what standard organic practices involves is important and I too started the certification process and decided not to go through with it. I found my customers found locally grown and knowing their farmer to be more important..

However, that being said..not sure if I believe that using commercial fish feed is the safest and healthiest option..still trying to get the fish completely off it..

I would love to connect with others growing on a large scale that are not using any commercial feed. I've tried various things with some success and some not so great results.. know there is plenty of options(duckweed,moringa,spent grains etc)...just had other issues to deal with in my hybrid system that it kept falling to the side.

I apologize, this probably should be another thread, as I got way off topic.

Michelle

Sarasota, Fl

Passion for Produce

 

Peter I hope you are still following this thread........

Could you or anyone point me to the regulations that say you can not use the word ORGANIC in anything.;;;    as long as you do not say "Certified Organic" what regulations apply to stop you from using the word ORGANIC in any statement or trade mark..??

Thanks...

BW


Peter Shaw said:

We went through the certification process for several reasons:

1. we are an educational facility and the process is something that needs to be taught. We also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the certification in general.

2. Some of our former students are with the local certifier and we felt it was a good way to make connections for students, as several have been hired to be the "dreaded certifiers" but its a pretty decent job.

3. Certification is the only way you can use the word Organic

Organic has a market advantage in some areas, maybe not everywhere but in some areas it is large. People will pay a premium for O produce.

We have a great sat market that is open to certified and non-certified produce. The booths that say "no spray" or "sustainably grown" do not get the same $ for their crops.

I do think certified is becoming somewhat diluted but for the most part consumers know that synthetic fertilizers are not used, but of course they do not know that pesticides are allowed.

Sylvia, you will not be able to use Better than Organic because it has the O word in it,

E. coli can of course enter into your produce if you have employees that do not wash their hands and handle food.

TCLynx... agreed, local food is key, getting the purchaser to know the grower is the answer. And, there is more than one way to do it right, Local is great, we also do inorganic hydroponics and it sells very well at several local stores and when our consumers that see our system and understand how little water is used to produce basil and lettuce or tomatoes.

God... I joined this community only today, haven't started a system yet, in fact I just had my first fishes in my whole life offered this Christmas and already you guys are getting me into thinking that I will really want to grow all my fish food myself (duckweed/BSF/worms etc) .... If possible ....

Also, hello to all, this is my first post, am already enjoying myself here, I really like the prevailing mindset in all that I've read so far ... :)

It's been my experience after observing interactions with the growers at two CSAs my wife worked with that knowing your grower is much more important in a CSA setting that the organic certification. In fact, the certified organic hydroponic CSA has abandoned the organic certification for the hydroponics and is going back to more traditional hydroponic growing methods.

Although the hydroponic produce was certified organic, it was not the same aesthetic quality the CSA members were used to receiving the previous year. There is education that can be done, but in the end whether it's right or wrong that organic produce is still competing with the produce at Publix, Winn Dixie, and Kroger, etc.

It is my observation that for vending at farmer's markets, the organic vendors do sell more product, but it doesn't seem to make much difference in the CSAs because a relationship is built. Most people like the idea of walking through the field and seeing their food still on the vine. They appreciate the opportunity to ask how their food is grown, how much, and which pesticides were used.

I would rather operate a CSA than do direct vending at farmers markets. Vending is a lot of work with more overhead. The refrigerated trailer to transport the produce to the farmer's markets cost about $12,000 to build new. A used one was purchased for $6,000, but it was mostly worn out already. Then you need someone to man the booth. If you are paying that person, you need a lot of revenue to offset the expense.

I have also noticed that having refrigeration on the farm at point of sale is a necessary requirement if you have more than a handful of CSA members. One of the farms uses a walk in cooler with a plain old window type air conditioner unit. The other uses an insulated cargo trailer with overhead A/C unit powered by a Honda generator. With 220+ members it takes several hours to harvest and to hold the veggies at high quality. These two farms cannot live without refrigeration. They tried it for one year with poor results.

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