Aquaponic Gardening

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We are a non-profit building a 5,000 aquaponic greenhouse facility to employ returning veterans.  I attended a workshop at Nelson and Pade in WI, and like their systems.  I was wondering if anyone had any experience buying a commercial system about this size.  I would love feedback as we prepare our new facility.  Thanks. 

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I did their workshop too as well as the Aquatic Eco Systems course with Dr Rakocy and Dr Lennard. I have been sourcing out materials for an 850 square foot green house with about 250 square feet of raft. This sounds like a noble idea, however a 5000 square foot facility really only needs 2-3 people to run it. Were hoping to employ more than that? I know N&P systems aren't cheap, do you have the funding to buy a system from a grant? I'm up in NYC and may be interested in helping you in some way... let me know.

Jonathan:

We currently have a 300 s.f. greenhouse and we are expanding.  The 5,000 s.f. facility is already funded with a grant, so that's what we will build.  Our goal is to build the next one much larger, but this will be more educational and R&D.  We are in Philly, so maybe we can connect.  

Also, many of the vets we are helping have PTSD and TBI.  They may not be able to accomplish much in a day, which is why we are a non-profit.  Our goal is to rehabilitate using horticultural therapy.  They will work for a year or so and move to our next larger facility or do something else in life.

Sounds like you will have plenty of labor for the operation, the bigger trick is going to be working out what you need the vets to do and having procedures figured out for all the operations.  See Vets are usually great for following orders/instructions and I believe they are likely to be able to handle most of the actual labor involved.

I would say try to make sure the "work" areas for planting/harvesting are arranged so that it is relatively quite (as in not right next to the water spraying into the fish tanks or noisy pumps or wherever.  Water can be noisy and noise fatigue can greatly contribute to stress which I expect would be bad for PTSD (at least I know noise fatigue can set me off and though I've never been in battle or war, I did once work a job where by the end of it I think I did have PTSD and even now after over 10 years, I have to keep myself from thinking about it too much or it will mess me up.

So, clear instructions and a quiet environment for handling plants with flexible shifts sounds like an ideal stress relief job.  Make work areas ergonomic to reduce injury and stress and it sounds lovely.

The bigger challenge in such operations is figuring out what needs to be done/when and handing out the assignments as well as figuring out the instructions for the different jobs.  That management position will likely NOT be stress free.

TC:

Thanks.  They will be in the quiet area.  Also, it will be awhile before they assume management duties.  The goal is rehabilitation, not stress.

i've run a large aquaponics facility in the past. if you guys want advice on the day to day operation let me know.

because of the limitations of the elderly, some jobs will need ot be done by people that still have the dexterity in their hands... people with arthritis can feed the fish, with people with full and painless use of their hands can help harvest and plant...

really doing AP on a large scale with a few people is tedious, and required the handling of individual seeds, which can be troublesome for the elderly in many ways...

heavier jobs like the mixing of the planting medium would need to be done by stronger people... unless it's going to be done in small batches of 1-2lbs per batch... but that would take hours... 1 50lb batch of coir / vermiculite growing medium will be enough to plant around 40-50 seeding trays of 32 spaces per tray, depending on how much waste and how tightly packed they are planted...

these are just a few examples of things to get planned out before opening day of the facility...

Damon, I don't think too many veterans returning home from active duty are likely to be elderly, and it sounded to me like most of em coming home to programs like Brian's are likely to still be able bodied but in need of structured yet low psychological stress jobs with people around who can hopefully cope with the possible outbursts or breakdowns possible in those suffering from PTSD.

I'm guessing the biggest challenge will be for the "management" to figure out how much of what gets planted by what schedule so they can arrange the assignments to the labor available.

When ever I hear or see vets I think of the giant retirement home the next town to the north... my mix up. In that case it makes things easier... the numbers for a large scale operation start backwards... expected consumption, this will tell you now much needs transferred from the seeding tables to the system. Then you replant the tables.... its easy for things like lettuce that has a fairly accurate growth rate estimation... but for bushing plants and fruiting plants... results may vary...

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