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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Are you sure you can say 'naturally organic'?  Why is the o-word different here?

 

If so, great!!

 

Joseph -- I like 'UNcertified Organic'  :)  

 

 

 

Labeling claims are the work of lawyers. As long as you can prove the claim on the label you can use it. Example on meat products you cannot use the term Choice because choice is a USDA grade. But you can say "Ranchers Choice" "Health Choice" . Now I’m no expert but I believe you can use the term "Naturally organic" because it’s in quotation marks and you can prove the claim

Hmm.. seems like a fine line if someone wants to call you on it.

There's no baggage with saying All Natural (not in quotes) or something like that, is there?

 

I don't know if people would take me seriously if I wrote "Naturally Organic" in quotes on my packaging.  I haven't seen much of that, but maybe I just haven't noticed.  Interesting idea.

 

 

When it comes to organic it self is a fine line. If you make a further processed product and use the USDA organic label. It does not mean all of the product components are all natural or organic. To me organic is a scam right up there with Angus beef just another marketing ploy, naturally organic is truthful and honest when talking about aquaponics.

hahaha Rick,just seeing this now... love it!

Rick Op said:

Would I get in Official Trouble for saying my produce is "Organismic?"

It is not only accurate, but it sounds like a combination of Organic, and, uh, another O word which is, uh, also good.

BTW, the cost for me was supposed to be around $700 total, before the yearly fee .5% fee. I  figured if I got that initial amount reimbursed (or mostly), then it was possibly worth it...but I still like the idea of being proudly not certified,lol,
Michelle Silva said:

I spoke with QCS (one of the certifying agencies here in Florida) a while back and recently filled the paperwork out (a tedious task).  I am torn on whether it is worth it as well and still have not submitted it.

There is a grant that FOG (Florida Organic Growers) was offering to sustainable farms to get reimbursed for certification for up to 75% of the cost. However, I still wasn't sure if it was worth it, as there is the yearly cost and the small %  from sales taken etc.

 

Since starting the buying club years ago, and previously having to buy all the produce (before growing it myself), the members have to come to know and trust me. They primarily want locally grown first, but then they do want some things they are used to getting that is not local or in season (i.e apples etc) so I do supplement with very few items from an organic distributor. Other clubs in the area focus on "certified organic" but not necessarily local...I try have pesticide/ synthetic (even OMRI approved) free now and that is why the majority of the basket is from local growers I trust.. The members are excited that I've started growing aquaponically, most of them haven't heard of aquaponics before and many are interested in tours and showing others. The lettuce and the pak choy was well received. Growth was slowed down considerably with the very low temp of the water and staying cold for weeks, but I now have the tanks insulated to help stabilize it better. I also lost crops due to the freezing temps and then covering with plastic and hoophouses and some plants bolting when it got so hot the following morning..took it off by 10am but it was too late!..I'm still learning.

Anyway, one large farm I buy from (soil grown) is not certified but they are thriving. They use manure and fish emulsion and most often not even the OMRI pesticides and grow beautiful heirloom veggies and use organic seed. When they did use an "OMRI' approved pesticide last year, (they had a huge problem with worms on their peaches) she told me, as she knows how I feel and I didn't buy them.

 

General question related to this --

 

If I add veggies/kitchen scraps etc to my worm bin that are not certified organic, and then add worm juice from that bin to my AP system, would the veggies be considered organic according to the USDA (assuming everything else was OG)?  I don't think so, but I want to double check this.

 

I hear you Earl, there are a lot of funky things going on with OG certification.  AP needs its own 'clean' standard.  It will be interesting to hear what 'clean' means to different people..

 

Joseph, I like UNcertified organic! It definitely makes a statement. I do think it would be better to get away from the o-word all together though.
How about "Naturally toxin free the way nature intends it to be" lol..it's a bit long
oops, probably should say.."...the way nature intended it to be"
Naturally Organic..Orgasmicly Delicious...The way EVERYTHING is intended to be!!!

Michelle Silva said:
oops, probably should say.."...the way nature intended it to be"

Michelle, you cannot forget the hidden cost in the large amount of time you have to invest in filling out the applications and going through the involved process.

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