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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Even if you don't like the OG certification process, I still believe that the overall general quality of OG certified food remains much better than non-OG certified food. It's understandable that there are strong feelings on each side of the issue. IMO even though certain things may still be allowed under the OG label, some monitoring is a lot better than a no monitoring whatsoever, all holds barred approach. I understand why the rules were developed - without them it was the wild west.  At least with the rules, informed consumers (probably like most people who read this site) can understand the game and make their decisions accordingly -- with their wallet.

Well, I can agree that OG labled food is better than the industrial farmed food at the grocery stores.  However, I'll not agree that the organic certified food at the grocery store is better than what I'm growing here at home.

 

See I know I didn't spray anything on my stuff and organic doesn't guarantee pesticide free, it only (we hope) guarantees that the growers signed papers with some certifying agency that says their stuff is certified.  And even if they do follow all the rules properly.  Organic doesn't means pesticide free, it just means that the pesticides used are on the approved list.  There are organic pesticides out there and some are pretty nasty and would kill our fish if we used them.

 

So, organic certification might be a nice safety blanket for those unwilling to research where their own food comes from and just allow them to buy according to the labels, I can't agree that just having the certification makes the food any better than other food grown organically where the farmer didn't get the certification.

TCLynx,

 

I agree. The same holds true for the vegetables I grow in my above ground beds. They've seen absolutely no chemicals of any kind in the 3 years we've been growing. Hopefully I'll be able to take a similar approach with my aquaponics system when I finally pull the trigger on building it.

This is an interesting topic and timely for me..last Tuesday I visited a large compost manufacturer in Seffner. I have the possibility of doing something on a larger scale, still will be aquaponics but looking at all possible options in the system design. I liked the idea of how Growing Power uses compost in a sort of modified NFT. 

Anyway, I spoke with QCS (Fl certifying agency) last week again, as I was curious if compost needed to be OMRI approved and what process it needed to go through.

I didn't have time right now to check out the above link,  I thought it was more like 90 days at that temp. I'll look up the email that QCS sent and post it here ..I could be wrong..my memory might be failing me again!

just went back and saw the last few points..agreed, always best to grow our own or buy local from those you know and trust.

TCLynx said:

Well, I can agree that OG labled food is better than the industrial farmed food at the grocery stores.  However, I'll not agree that the organic certified food at the grocery store is better than what I'm growing here at home.

 

See I know I didn't spray anything on my stuff and organic doesn't guarantee pesticide free, it only (we hope) guarantees that the growers signed papers with some certifying agency that says their stuff is certified.  And even if they do follow all the rules properly.  Organic doesn't means pesticide free, it just means that the pesticides used are on the approved list.  There are organic pesticides out there and some are pretty nasty and would kill our fish if we used them.

 

So, organic certification might be a nice safety blanket for those unwilling to research where their own food comes from and just allow them to buy according to the labels, I can't agree that just having the certification makes the food any better than other food grown organically where the farmer didn't get the certification.

Michelle, if you really are thinking about following a Growing Power route please contact me first.  I have compiled some issues that I have with their systems, and have seen a number of failures lately.  Happy to share them with you in a PM.

I agree that some rules are better than none.  But not enough has been done to tell people of all the 'loopholes' (for obvious reasons).  So I am happy there is a standard, I just think the bar is really low and people should be aware of it.  I don't think most people are, not even most that care about their food (think average farmer's market customer).

 

Thanks Sylvia, OK, will PM you,thanks..I liked the idea of the compost/modified NFT thing..but had some concerns as well. Now that I have three different methods set up, in my small hybrid system,seeing the pros & cons of each, trying to do this the simpliest way on a larger scale..not crazy about doing it on a large scale with rafts. We have another idea thinking about.

Sylvia Bernstein said:
Michelle, if you really are thinking about following a Growing Power route please contact me first.  I have compiled some issues that I have with their systems, and have seen a number of failures lately.  Happy to share them with you in a PM.

Sylvia and Michelle,  

I'd like to see some of that information too.

JoeJ



Sylvia Bernstein said:
Michelle, if you really are thinking about following a Growing Power route please contact me first.  I have compiled some issues that I have with their systems, and have seen a number of failures lately.  Happy to share them with you in a PM.

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.

True, true Chris!  I always talk about that at our farm tours too and at markets.  Most people don't know that and we get the same reaction.  We like to say that aquaponically grown food is "pure, unadulterated food". 

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