Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

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"

Views: 1841

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Hello all,

Bringing an old thread back to life, but it's a meaningful thread. My project in Laos is being constructed right now and I may be able to begin selling a few heads of lettuce in October or November. I don't have any legal worries, well, not like you do in the West with false advertising etc., but I'm thinking of putting a label on my product that goes something like "Aquaponics, the Future of Sustainable, Organic Farming." Just curious if that would get me in trouble in the West?


As for becoming "Certified Organic," they are working on making their own certification body here in Laos. There is an organization here called PROFIL (Promotion of Organic Farming and Marketing in Lao PDR). They are part of the Swiss organization, Helvetas. From their website: "PROFIL is currently working with the Department of Agriculture to implement a new Lao certification body. This new organization will be able to certify to the Lao Organic Standards, and will eventually provide inspection services for many international certifications, including NOP, JAS, EU."

I'm thinking of approaching them. My project at this stage is quite small. Maybe they would be less reluctant to accept a "soiless" mode of production. I'll let you all know. Meanwhile, if there is any advise, I'd love to hear it. My project in its first stage will look something like this:

Great project Richard. I am looking at your drawing and am wondering if your "bomb proof toilet/shower" is to serve as a fish tank or another purpose? What are you going to use the solar heater for? I thought Laos was in the tropics. If so your water may be warm enough already. Are you going to grow plants in your wicking worm beds?

Hello Chris,

I just joined the wicking beds group and started a post (comment) about my wicking bed idea when I got notified you replied to my post. . . My project is on the Bolaven Plateau which is at 1,200 meters. It's a microclimate that has a mean annual average temperature of 19.5 C. It's between 15 C and 25 C almost all year round. It's temperate, not tropical, but if you to a 45 minute drive down what used to be a volcano, to 100 or so meters, you are back in a tropical environment. In order to keep the tilapia happy, I'm going to use as much passive solar as possible. Note that my fish tank is long and narrow. Not ideal, but the outside long side faces south and I'll paint it black. The bomb-proof toilet shower is an experiment with earthbag building. I made a few posts on my blog (at www.wrongwayhome.com) about a "Bomb-Proof Crapper." The two 55-gallon drums up there will be insulated and face south, too, with a clear plastic or glass surface. It's for a quick warm shower in the evening but mainly to top up the aquaponics system every day. I don't know if it will be enough, but I want to keep the water in the system at 25 C and daytime temps in the greenhouse at about the same. I will close up the greenhouse at night, so temps should at least be a bit higher than outside. I'll get back to my post about wicking beds. . . By the way, I think you are a great model for community involvement. I'm hoping to have systems like mine put in schools in poor, rural villages to fight malnutrition and poverty, in general.

Bringing an old thread back to life, but it's a meaningful thread. My project in Laos is being constructed right now and I may be able to begin selling a few heads of lettuce in October or November. I don't have any legal worries, well, not like you do in the West with false advertising etc., but I'm thinking of putting a label on my product that goes something like "Aquaponics, the Future of Sustainable, Organic Farming." Just curious if that would get me in trouble in the West?

Back to your question here about wording.  Yes it probably could cause you some trouble here.  If you are not certified Organic, it is generally best not to use the word at all in any way on any of your signs or labels.  Perhaps use

"Aquaponics, the Future of Sustainable, Natural Farming"

Or I would probably go for "Aquaponics, The future of Water Wise Farming."  Since sustainability could be argued about the need for electricity and fish food and the use of plastic and containers.  But aquaponics is certainly the best way to grow more food for every drop of water used and re-used.  Can't get any more water wise unless you are doing it in a bio-sphere.

We had a local car dealer selling pellets stoves. At an local market, he had a booth with his stove set up and a sign that read "This stove is NOT energy efficient!"  When someone approached him, he had a sales spiel about how much more efficient his stoves were than the government specification for "Energy Efficient".  

This might be a lead into a whole marketing campaign.  "Aquaponics is NOT Organic, and PROUD of it!"

Just a thought.

I guess you are right. It implies that you are already certified. I sometimes wonder why "organic" seems such an important word. Regarding sustainability, you are probably right, there, too. That's why I chose land that has a stream running through it with a 14m waterfall. I'll be generating most of my own power. So, I believe it is true about my aquaponic system, but perhaps not aquaponics in general. I have an abundant source of water, and that's rain. In fact, 3500mm (140 inches) of it a year. But during the short dry season I'll consider myself lucky to have a water-conserving aquaponics system. Not sure what I'll do if I can't harvest and hold enough rain.

TCLynx said:

Bringing an old thread back to life, but it's a meaningful thread. My project in Laos is being constructed right now and I may be able to begin selling a few heads of lettuce in October or November. I don't have any legal worries, well, not like you do in the West with false advertising etc., but I'm thinking of putting a label on my product that goes something like "Aquaponics, the Future of Sustainable, Organic Farming." Just curious if that would get me in trouble in the West?

Back to your question here about wording.  Yes it probably could cause you some trouble here.  If you are not certified Organic, it is generally best not to use the word at all in any way on any of your signs or labels.  Perhaps use

"Aquaponics, the Future of Sustainable, Natural Farming"

Or I would probably go for "Aquaponics, The future of Water Wise Farming."  Since sustainability could be argued about the need for electricity and fish food and the use of plastic and containers.  But aquaponics is certainly the best way to grow more food for every drop of water used and re-used.  Can't get any more water wise unless you are doing it in a bio-sphere.

Yes, I liked that one. It appeared early in the thread. The funny thing here is that there still isn't a certifying body here but there is an "Organic Market" every Saturday in Vientiane. The emphasis seems to be on traditional farming which is deemed "organic by default." The truly "Certified Organic" places here are certified by outside bodies and all export. So if all these farmers are claiming to be organic, I don't see why I can't until somebody tells me otherwise. If I leave out the "Certified" I see no problem. The word "Organic" doesn't belong to anybody here. Oops, I forgot, this is a communist country. Everything belongs to the politburo. . .

Lance Rose said:

This might be a lead into a whole marketing campaign.  "Aquaponics is NOT Organic, and PROUD of it!"

Just a thought.

Hi Chris,

Even though you do not like the BS of another beauracracy, the USDA Organic Certification label is for your customers.  Have you spoken to Whole Foods Stores, or do you have them on the big Island?  I have a friend who loves up by the Volcanic Park.  She always complains of the GMO experiments going on there on the big island.  There are some grants and other options available to show that you follow the Organic Growing style,  After all, it is the quality of the poop that makes your crops Pop with Flavor and nutrients. 

 

Have you thought of using Certified Naturally Grown?  It is more of a co-op of growers that do not charge for inspections, but I do not know if you have them there.   Here is a link to a general overview of what is possible: http://hisfarm.org/usda-organic-certification-do-i-need-it/    Let me know if you are still interested in becoming Organically Certified USDA, or if you would like to know more about the Certified Naturally Grown label for your products.

Aloha

Chris Downs

hisfarm.org

Hi Chris, You had asked for any ideas on the post on this forum.  I do believe that we can make a huge difference together.  So here are some of my Ideas.  I have been a buyer for my own grocery store in the past, too much work for me now, that is why feel the need to get back to a better controlled environment for growing healthy food.  Thus Aquaponics and Aquaculture. 

 

I believe from the viewpoint of the customer, that perception of Quality and safety is important.  I agree with the way that you educating of your customers.  That works great for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  Your Customers and neighbors know you, as do other farmers. 

 

You could actually at little or no cost become Certified Naturally Grown.  That solution is a volunteer label, where the farmer and inspectors certify each others crops and growing capabilities as well as adhering to the USDA Organic Certification.  However, it is not that well known certification.

 

I understand that you can get crappy food from a USDA Organic Certified farm.  There are many factors that contribute to poor quality.  But to sell Organic food to whole foods, they require the USDA Certified Organic label for your food to be considered Organic.

 

As you recommended, we as organic Aquaponic and Aquaculture growers could come together and start our own certification.  There is a standard of quality and lack of contaminants that can be met and certified by those of us who would be willing to spend their own time to go through and create the entire system.  We could follow the Certified Naturally Grown label currently being used, maybe even join with the farmers and producers that adhere to those standards.

 

Those standards are the same as the USDA Organic Certification and the cost of implementation would be a lot less.  However, as you indicated, there is the education of the end users, our customers.  That means marketing.  That can be accomplished either automatically through the internet, events and even getting a few restaurants that only serve Aquaponic clean food to their customers. 

 

 

So my recommendation is to continue to sell directly to your customers, label your produce naturally grown, and let your customers be your inspectors while building a CSA for your future growth.  That is the way that it has been done for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Buy local, or guess how the products were produced.

 

If on the other hand you want to sell USDA Organic Certified products, get a grant, ask for a discount as well as help from the same agency that is having you go through the process.  After all, it is in their best interest to help you get that certification.  It expands their customer base also.

 

May you prosper well, your customers become healthier each day and tell your community about your farm.  With the passion that you have for serving others, your customers are truly blessed.

There are so many variables with different systems and the issues with using foam rafts (fire retardant ) what pest controls are applied, sealants  etc , that there will have to be some kind of certification that comes about because just because it's aquaponic doesn't mean it's organic or even safe ,  depends on many factors...... just a few things I ve been mulling over

Well Jane, to an extent you are right that aquaponic doesn't mean organic since organic is a special certification.

Now on the other hand, the aquaponics system is full of canaries.  If anything you use in the system is acutely toxic, it is likely to kill fish and bio-filter bacteria long before it could reach dangerous enough levels to have any affect on a person eating some of the produce.

Then again, there are products out there that we assume are safe because the USDA and FDA have certified them "food safe" and we buy food packaged in such products all the time and yet they leach hormone like chemicals into the food for us to ingest and yet they are certified as safe.

Now if you are going to sell aquaponic produce to the public, I would advise making sure your materials are as "safe" as possible.  BUT to an extent you eventually just have to do a bit of your own research and make some of your own decisions since a government "certification" doesn't always mean a guarantee of safety.  All the certification does is say "this farm meets the guidelines, they filled out the paperwork, paid the fees, and passed the inspection."

I have been thinking the same thing about the "canary " theory ( since I started with a pink foamular raft and am now constructing a bamboo one).... not sure the canary theory  is always applicable , since plant take up toxins etc ... phytoremediation......in which case the plants would be absorbing the toxins thus helping the fish but then the plants are what we eat........ more actual scientific ,controlled studies will have to be done , but I think largely it has to be correct because fish have a low tolerance for most toxins.

for those who want more info on organic regulations...    

https://www.omri.org/            http://www.omri.org/omri-lists   check out this , I find it usefully it find resources 

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ 

One thing I wanted to let everyone know is that if you have less than $5000 in sales per year you can claim to be organic within the law.( you won't be "certified organic " ) On the other hand if you put it in writing on your product and you are going over the $5000 or are found not to be organic it is a $10,000 fine for each incident. So if you have 100 bags of soil you are selling as organic soil and  it's  not ,you risk 100 x $10,000 ...... using the word organic is not something to play around with. Anyway at  least this is my understanding ... I have been selling organic plants for three years now under the under $5000 rule. I tell people I use organic seed , soil ,products and methods but I am not currently certified. Here in CA. I have been noticing at the farmers markets that those in the process of certification will post a letter from the certifying agency that says 18 months or x number of  months pesticide free. I think that is helpful to the sales of  the farmers making the transition.

anyway that's my two cents for now......not sure its worth two cents but anyway have a good day guys

 



TCLynx said:

Well Jane, to an extent you are right that aquaponic doesn't mean organic since organic is a special certification.

Now on the other hand, the aquaponics system is full of canaries.  If anything you use in the system is acutely toxic, it is likely to kill fish and bio-filter bacteria long before it could reach dangerous enough levels to have any affect on a person eating some of the produce.

Then again, there are products out there that we assume are safe because the USDA and FDA have certified them "food safe" and we buy food packaged in such products all the time and yet they leach hormone like chemicals into the food for us to ingest and yet they are certified as safe.

Now if you are going to sell aquaponic produce to the public, I would advise making sure your materials are as "safe" as possible.  BUT to an extent you eventually just have to do a bit of your own research and make some of your own decisions since a government "certification" doesn't always mean a guarantee of safety.  All the certification does is say "this farm meets the guidelines, they filled out the paperwork, paid the fees, and passed the inspection."

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2019   Created by Sylvia Bernstein.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service