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"

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There isn't currently any certifying agency for aquaponics.  An alternative to Cerfified Organic has been a grassroots movement called Certified Natrually Grown,  http://www.naturallygrown.org/  allthough I don't know if any commercial aquaponics farms have received their certification yet.   It doesn't yet carry the same weight as an organic cert, but its definitely a step in the right direction.  I find it ironic that the same beaurocracy that approves and endorses GMO's, mandates the organic certification process, while also allowing for different standards from other countries.  But I won't get started on that right now!

 

There is another discussion on this forum called The Future of Food and Farming, where a topic was generated about creating an aquaponics association that would not only advance aquaponics and be a collective place for aquaponic research and information, but would aslo have a certifying agency that would certify aquaponic growers.  In order to explore this idea with people in the aquaponics world, a conference was suggested.  We haven't gotten much farther than Orlando Florida in October, but some of us hope to start organizing it soon.  We think it would be a huge benefit to the commercial community to have our oun certification process and agency, especially with so many considering commercial farming.  Also this association could help promote and educate the public about the benefits of aquaponic growing and that it is 'better than organic'. For instance, part of that consumer education would incude the fact that there are an alllowable amount of chemicals on organic food, which I think someone previously pointed out, but most don't know!  My picture of this association is an entity with the marketing power to get a significant campaign out there about aquaponic growers and the benefits.  Perhaps, Sylvia and Sahib can weigh in on this too?  Both were actively engaged in the other discussion. 

 

We at Green Acre are just beginning the certifying process.  Wee too think it seems cumbersome, costly and time consuming however we have multiple organic buyers that desperately want our produce but cannot purchase it with out the certification.   We haven't met any resistance otherwise from buyers at markets and natural food stores without the certification, but I think that also goes along with the consumers actual recognition of who their farmer is.  They can associate a human with their purchase and I think a good degree of trust and and comfort goes along with that.

 

Here is the link to this topic on the Future of Food and Farming discussion:http://aquaponicscommunity.com/forum/topics/the-future-of-food-and-...

I love the Certified Naturally Grown concept, but this line from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certified_Naturally_Grown) gives me pause : 

 

"This process works well for large-scale commercial growers, but becomes onerous for small mixed-agriculture farms."

 

Can anyone experienced with this certification on a small scale comment on this?

 

I would be very interested in attending a conference on standardizing AP certification.  Please keep us posted!  I will read through the other discussion now.

 

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.

LOL

 

Rick, I love it!  Yes, yes, yes!  LOL!
I'll have what they're having!!

Bio-ganics?

Greetings to the forum, I'm new (obviously) and my wife and I have been kicking around this exact dilemma for a few years now. She likes "Organomics" -for organic and economical, my fave is "Orgaponic" to suggest the idea of organics and hydroponics together without saying the o-word and becoming tangled up in all the associated governmental bs.

-Gus

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.

 

Michelle, we too went through the same dilemma. In the end we decided that what we were doing was better than o-ganic. We decided at that time that we would make it a point to educate our customers, and anybody else who would listen, about the benefits of aquaponics. It has taken some time, but now our business is booming. We are selling out most weeks and we even had to take a week off recently to let the produce time to catch up with demand. We attribute our sucess to providing a superior local product as well as the time that we have spent educating the public. We try to excite and inspire people as well as educate, so that they will tell their friends and "get the seed planted" about aquaponics.


I am curious about your buyers club. Could you give some details how you got started and how it is structured?
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.

 

Chris,

I started the buying club about 6 years ago,..just got the word out mostly by word of mouth and a few flyers. I ran it very low key ,keeping it small intentially and not for profit. I had a career in Manhattan previously to having our children and when we moved here, decided to be home with them to homeschool and the buying club was just something I wanted to do, but not as a business. There were a couple of others in the area, so some people were already familiar with them.

After 10 years of being home with the children, I am really excited to be working again at something I am very passionate about and wanted to grow it now (excuse the pun) as a business. The buying club members are spreading the word to bring more people in and to help support it.  I select what's in season mostly..Someone just thanked me for making Wednesday (our pickup day) the highlight of their week. That was so great to hear! The members seem to love when something different it included.

I try to focus on things they can't get in the stores.

I collected deposits and when there were 20 people on the waiting list I ordered. The cost at that time was $20 a week and payment was made in 4 week intervals. A couple of years ago, I had to increase it to $25,and commitments are made in 6 week intervals..There weren't any complaints with the price increase, as I provide a lot of great food and I can still make a decent profit. I'm trying to figure ways to automate it better, membership is at 40, but wanting to grow it more.

I also applied to accept EBT (food stamps) to be able to provide healthy food to all! Unfortunately, I do not have a retail space and got a rejection letter, but not giving up yet, as the program allows farmers to  accept it at farmer's markets. You might want to look into it. I think it would open up a huge market.

Hope this helps.

I have to agree, I was checking into makeing the farm I'm building certified organic, until I found out it would be a min of $2000.00 for the process, you should be able to use  the term "Organic by nature" or "naturally organic"

How about...."UNcertified Organic...and proud of it!"

Earl ward said:

I have to agree, I was checking into makeing the farm I'm building certified organic, until I found out it would be a min of $2000.00 for the process, you should be able to use  the term "Organic by nature" or "naturally organic"

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