Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

Quick Preamble:

  1. I really wanted to add my info to the last forum but was so demoralized by the interpersonal conflict.  So, I want this forum post to be all about facts, ideas, love and peace.  
  2. I know my name is "Food Safety Guy" but can we leave safety out of this discussion.  Organic and Food Safety are both certifications and tend to get lumped together.  Go with me on this, they are two completely different topics and should be discussed separately.  It would like combining fish disease with lettuce disease, both are diseases but have completely different solutions. :) 

On to loving, peaceful post about organic aquaponics . . . 

It is not impossible to get an Organic Aquaponic Program, but REALLY difficult.

Why . . . Because the NOP wants soil?

How do I know they want soil?  Because they state it clearly here:

Observing the framework of organic farming based on its foundation of sound management of soil biology and ecology, it becomes clear that systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics, can not be considered as examples of acceptable organic farming practices. Hydroponics, the production of plants in nutrient rich solutions or moist inert material, or aeroponics, a variation in which plant roots are suspended in air and continually misted with nutrient solution, have their place in production agriculture, but certainly cannot be classified as certified organic growing methods due to their exclusion of the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems and USDA/NOP regulations governing them.

Basically, a aquaponic grower needs to show how they are treating their media like organic soil:

§ 205.209 Terrestrial Plants in Containers and Enclosures (Greenhouses) 

(a) Container and enclosure (Greenhouse) operations must meet all applicable
requirements of subparts B (205.105) and C (205.200 – 205.206) except that:
(1) The producer operating a greenhouse with crops grown in containers using a growing media that does not include soil from the production site is exempt from requirements of 205.202(b), 205.203(a).
(2) In addition, the growing container based producer is exempt from the crop rotation and cover cropping requirements in section 205.203(b) and 205.205. In lieu of crop rotation and cover cropping, soil regeneration and recycling practices shall be implemented and documented for the certification agent in order to demonstrate that the required functions/goals of crop rotation and cover cropping listed in 205.205(a, b, c, d) have been achieved through these alternate practices, as applicable to the operation. Specifically:
(i) Maintain or improve soil organic matter content (a)- Examples include, but are not limited to, recycling and re-use of growing media, addition of compost and other compostable materials, earthworm replenishment, microbial re-inoculation, etc.
(ii) Provide for pest management in crops (b)- Such as soil borne damping-off control through various low temperature heating methods. Soil inoculation using disease suppressant bacteria and fungi.
(iii) Manage deficient or excess plant nutrients (c)- Recycle excess plant nutrients contained in drain water from media containers, avoiding so called drain-to-waste systems. Recycled nutrients must be re-used in the greenhouse, or alternatively, on a growing crop outside the facility.
(iv) Provide erosion control (d)- Though erosion is not generally applicable to greenhouse production, recycling of drain water prevents off-site movement of nutrients, a common consequence of typical field erosion.
(b) Growing media ingredients shall be verified by certifying agent and shall not include as ingredients any prohibited materials. Growing media shall be comprised of ingredients that allow for recycling and re-use as growing media within the operation, or alternatively, as a crop input outside the greenhouse. Growing media shall not be disposed of as waste, but  should be recycled or reused whenever possible. Growing media shall contain sufficient organic matter capable of supporting natural and diverse soil ecology. For this reason, hydroponic and aeroponic systems are prohibited. Growing media used to produce crop transplants should also be capable of supporting a natural and diverse soil ecology.

Now for some insight on the inside of a certifiers mind . . . . . . AHHHH, I know frightening thought.

I used to work for an Organic Certifier, and the company I am currently with partners with one.  Certifiers in general are a very conservative black and white bunch.  Auditors, tend to lean on the side of caution and stay away from any type of any potential risk.  Most would define Aquaponics as a niche risk.  

Many certifiers would get a call from a aquaponic company and think, "What The ____!  You do what, with WHAT!  WOW, this is interesting, I wonder what the NOP thinks about Aquaponics . . . "  Then they would read the above statement and conclude: this is a lot of work, for something that most likely will not get certified.  The next thought would be, is this risk worth the potential loss: I already have a hard enough time getting paid by farmers that do get certified. 

I give the information above not to discourage you, but to enlighten and encourage you.  Everyone has the power of persuasion at their fingertips.  Prove and persuade, baby, prove and persuade.

Loving & Peaceful thoughts, opinions, ideas are encouraged. 

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Great points Peter!

Great topic for a wannabe "commercial" operation. The USDA certified organic label brings a higher price in the marketplace and if it is possible to get certified organic I for one would like to pursue this. Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii have been certified organic and "sell" their commercial training with the claim that if you build a system exactly by their plans you can get certified organic. However, Hawaii has a much different climate than NC where I am and I have already modified their system plans and added a media bed with worms to filter fish feces before the flow goes to the deep water troughs. Any pointers to make the system palatable to organic certifiers would be very welcome!  

The two companies the Friendlies have worked with are in OR and CA, so, in NC, you're probably going to deal with another, more local company. I'd suggest locating 1-2 and start talking to them.

The worms do not disqualify your system, if that is your fear. I contacted a couple of certifying companies and asked and was told no problem re: worms. (Organic soil had better have worms!)

Awesome, Peter and Rebecca, too true. 

Bill:  We have heard CCOF & Oregon Tilth have provided Organic Certs.  Organic Certifiers, in Ventura, CA just told me they have a couple aquaponic growers that are in good standing.  

Peter - looking forward to the saga of organic cert. Although I have one tank and media bed operating, I am still in system build out and it will be awhile before I am able to pursue organic cert.

Rebecca - thanks for the encouragement - I certainly agree that worms are good!

Food Safety Guy - its good to hear the list of certifiers is expanding, rather than the alternative!

Anyone have info on what all we have to do to get certified?

I think everybody here would love to be able to get our products Certified Organic. You are an "Insider" so to speak . YOU tell US how to achieve this. I know I would greatly appreciate all of your help and insight. My first thought would to be to cause a class action lawsuit and challenge the Authority and Legitimacy of the Certifying Agency and challenge that they are discriminating on the basis that they are poorly informed ! It's quite obvious that I am not an Attorney , but I think you get the gist. With enough people backing it. It would force the USDA to take another look. This is obviously the long route. It's also not a route most of us would choose! I for one do not ever wish to be produce a product that could be hazardous. Now for my next Thought ! I would love to hear what you have to say about product safety . This is a question that has eating at me for sometime and I had no idea where to get accurate answers . If this is your Field or Specialty I would love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for your time ! If your more comfortable discussing this off the Forum, feel free to message me, I do think there are some here who would like to know your thoughts on this subject though !

to sign and spread:

a petition to allow Organic Certification for Aquaponics

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