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i'm interested mainly in the business end of aquaponics, so here are some questions that have been proposed to me over the last few years. granted my responses are going to be my personal opinions and will be open to full discussion.

 

Does being a back yard warrior of aquapopnics qualify you to give training sessions for profit?

 

depends on what you're training. if you're going to train people on how to do what you've done, then by all means train away, but if you only have a small back yard system, then you shouldn't be selling advice on things like commercial systems. although in theory they are the same things just on different scales, but one small system is a far cry away from a full scale commercial system. the general rule of thumb for me is like a pay grade,you can advise below what you're currently at, but shouldn't ethically go above what you've already accomplished.

 

the sale of unbacked, theorized production numbers as facts.

 

this is an easy one, if you haven't actually done it, you cant claim to be able to do it, so you shouldn't sell products like manuals and kits without proper record keeping and time stamped photo evidence. there's alot of people out there claiming that they can grow things in just 4 weeks from seed to harvest...  well.. unless you're talking microgreens, im not convinced...

 

and last but not least for now, and my personal favorite...

 

the exploitation of a 2nd or 3rd world countries labor force to seek proper profit margins.

 

now here me out on this one... while creating an aquaponics business in any 1st world country is looking harder and harder with the increase of a federal minimum wage, 2nd and 3rd world countries with no minimum wage base leaves the proprietor free to pay what ever they want...

 

but here's the twist.

 

lets say the average wage in the united states is around $8 per hour now, and the average  wage of some 2n or 3rd world country is $2 per day. with that being said, you start your operation in the 3rd world country where you could pay $2 a day per person for labor, but you actually pay them $4-$6 a day which is 2-3 times the national average.

 

you're still exploiting the 2nd and 3rd world standards of wage, but you're giving these people jobs that pay twice to three times as much as they would be making other wise, all the while securing you high profit margins.

 

on one hand it's socially unacceptable to exploit these people, but on the other hand it is socially acceptable to pay them a higher wage than average.

 

if anyone else has more questions of ethics having to do with aquaponics feel free to chime in, because i know i haven't hit them all.

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Cash Cows don't exist in farming, but making a decent living can be done. An Aquaponics system can provide better efficiencies and lower labor costs if designed correctly.

I think you may be missing the bigger picture of Aquaponics which is to produce the best quality food locally and efficiently.

Also, it is the nature of Aquaponics that size doesn't matter. A back yard system is just a smaller version of a commercial system. I suppose more engineering needs to go in to larger pumps, lighting and all the other environmental controls, but the biology, chemistry and inputs are the same at any scale.

I am considering a commercial system as well, and your right... i don't trust claims made my commercial suppliers of systems, so i am building a small scale system to see the result for myself. However, in my research I have found consistent reports from gardeners, commercial growers and universities that the yields are real. 34 days from seed to harvest on lettuce.

The idea of "commercialisation" and profitability needs more definition... what constitutes a "decent living"???

And is this defined more in terms of a personal income derived from a "hobby farm".. as opposed to a demonstrable "profit" making enterprise???

 

As to the statement... "Also, it is the nature of Aquaponics that size doesn't matter. A back yard system is just a smaller version of a commercial system."...

I don't believe this is true at all, even for the recent rash of raft based systems that have sprung up over the last 18 months.. but some of that comes back to the above...

 

And nobody has been prepared to actually put their figures on the table.. to date...

 

There are a few startup operations that show some commercial and profitable viability... but they're all $million+ plus startups... and yet to reach production forecasts...

 

34 days for a lettuce from seed to harvest... is extremely optomistic... even with the best of controlled environments, and practices...



Jonathan Kadish said:

Cash Cows don't exist in farming, but making a decent living can be done. An Aquaponics system can provide better efficiencies and lower labor costs if designed correctly.

I think you may be missing the bigger picture of Aquaponics which is to produce the best quality food locally and efficiently.

Also, it is the nature of Aquaponics that size doesn't matter. A back yard system is just a smaller version of a commercial system. I suppose more engineering needs to go in to larger pumps, lighting and all the other environmental controls, but the biology, chemistry and inputs are the same at any scale.

I am considering a commercial system as well, and your right... i don't trust claims made my commercial suppliers of systems, so i am building a small scale system to see the result for myself. However, in my research I have found consistent reports from gardeners, commercial growers and universities that the yields are real. 34 days from seed to harvest on lettuce.

Talk about setting a cat amonst the pidgeons Damon...

 

I'll no doubt cope a lot of flack over this... but...

 

"Does being a back yard warrior of aquapopnics qualify you to give training sessions for profit?"

 

Absolutely NOT...

If someone hasn't actually been running a "commercial" operation... that has consistantly turned a profit for two consecutive years... then they shouldn't be offering training in "commercial" systems...

Basically their operations are still either "hobby farms", or proof of concept systems...

And without wishing to malign anyone, as there are those who are trying to "walk the walk"... rather than just "talking the talk"... many of  those have found that the methodologies they've used for the last 12-18 months...have either failed to meet the "promised" returns, and/or, have presented problems of one sort or another...

And even those that might be acheiving a level of reasonable turnover... rely heavily on direct marketing and approach a level of time commitment that limits any possible expansion...

And many of them would not be actually turning a "profit"... without the subsidy of "workshops", "training", or other sales of books, hardware, consulting etc...

If I offend anyone with these comments.. then post your figures up... and let the discussion begin in earnest...

Since basic aquaponics is not rocket science , of course there are concepts and research that can be more scientific and complex , but if someone wants to "teach" what they have learned (basics)  and someone else wants to pay to be their "student"   i don't see the problem . But as far as those who sell commercial systems and don't know what they are talking about their business will soon enough fail.I'm not sure who you are referring to but that is just the way anything new is everyone sets them self up as an expert in order to make a buck but I don't blame them it is hard to survive the economy , the rat race and the chaos , the current food systems, the unrest among many people. Aquaponics gives you a chance to get back to nature and  to eat healthier so if I can make a living somehow with it I will give it a shot. Just my thoughts ........ 

I don't have a problem with what you say Jane...

And I don't have a problem with anyone providing training in the "methodology" that they employ... hopefully backed by at least a few years actual experience...

But it's a different story to claim, and/or offer training in commercial systems... if you haven't actually done so.. and successfully for several years IMO...

Otherwise, ultimately, what you're only actually offering ... is training in the methodology... which is fine... but it should be presented in exactly that framework...

If anyone is going to offer "training" in "commercial" aquaponics... then they need to be able to provide the answer, no "if, thens or buts"... to the "question"...

"Show me the money"...

well said

RupertofOZ said:

I don't have a problem with what you say Jane...

And I don't have a problem with anyone providing training in the "methodology" that they employ... hopefully backed by at least a few years actual experience...

But it's a different story to claim, and/or offer training in commercial systems... if you haven't actually done so.. and successfully for several years IMO...

Otherwise, ultimately, what you're only actually offering ... is training in the methodology... which is fine... but it should be presented in exactly that framework...

If anyone is going to offer "training" in "commercial" aquaponics... then they need to be able to provide the answer, no "if, thens or buts"... to the "question"...

"Show me the money"...

I know the stories you hear about low wages in 3rd world countries. Not sure where you're going to find anyone to work for 6$ a day? By the end of the week think you'd be quite surprised by how these wages stack up. They do need jobs though, as does the rest of the world. Also remember the workforce is generally not highly educated. Also most people in 3rd world have their housing paid for (it may not be too much but its paid for).  As far as ethics what kills me is (promotion for the benefit of promoter). You want to educate people in something you honestly believe in, are qualified to teach, and not mislead them for your gain. I say go for it, keep it honest and price consumerate.                                                                                        Touche! Rupert  "Show me the money"... 

Seeing as there isn't yet any system to police who is "qualified" to teach aquaponics, other than people noticing them and talking about it on the forums, it is really left to people to make their own decisions.  There are people out there making a buck with plagiarized E-Books so I don't see much chance of stopping those who only want to make a buck from being un-ethical.

 

Now while I have never taken money for giving tours of my garden (it usually takes several hours of my time since few people leave all that quickly and then there are generally lots of e-mails before and after.) I wouldn't blame some one for wanting to take donations for their time and effort for doing such things.

 

As to workshops, again, I've not accepted money for them to this point but as long as they are honest about the experience of the person giving the workshop and honest about what they are meant to teach, (or what project is being done during the workshop) then I would see nothing wrong with accepting a bit of money for the time and effort.  See it does take some time and money to set up for a workshop project and then to wait for the appointed time to do the project with observers/helpers.

 

And with the above, I think I said the word Honest.  Isn't that the biggest thing with ethics?  Well to me it is.  I've had people ask me to "consult" on commercial projects.  Now I think they were expecting me to simply give them a quote for some "stock" system or something but when I came back asking a million questions so that I could direct them to the most appropriate "help" I think I scared them away.

 

Many people who think they want to get into commercial aquaponics seem to think it's as easy as buying a kit and they have no clue.  They came across the concept in some article or something and think they can quit their job, sit in front of the computer and somehow the aquaponics system will do all the work for them (and they haven't even thought of the business and marketing side of it at all.)

 

Now while the basic concept of aquaponics is very scalable and if you understand the nitrogen cycle for an aquarium AP system you can essentially expand the concept up to a huge system, the devil is in the details.  And the person who is going to be operating any such system will have to learn and get their feet wet a bit.

But when we start talking commercial operation, The real Devil has pretty much nothing to do with Aquaponics.  Can the business sustain itself?  Sometimes there is no way to know without trying but Don't take the numbers flipped out on the internet as proof.  I see so many people coming on asking for business plans.  As if a cookie cutter business plan would work anywhere.  I might be able to get away with a huge amount since I can grow without a greenhouse or heating (if I can figure out how to keep the squirrels from destroying my seed starting area all the time) but some one just a few hours North of me wanting to grow basil year round would Not manage without a greenhouse and then you have the increased pest problems in the greenhouses.

 

So, If someone wants to give classes, buyer beware.

If someone wants to take a class on commercial aquaponics, well I think there is only one class being offered by an operation that has actually been an operating commercial aquaponics farm for more than a year or two that actually offers any of their business information in the class and you have to decide for yourself if their commercial operation and business information would translate to your location and situation or not.  That just goes to my whole comment on Aquaponics of "know where the information is coming from"  Some one might be totally honest when they say that XYZ works perfectly for them but unless you live next door to them and are using all the exact same stuff I wouldn't take it as a guarantee.

 

Ok, I've probably babbled on long enough.

Bravo, TC.  I agree 1000%.  It is about honesty.  To draw an arbitrary line in the sand that says that they must have been "running a "commercial" operation... that has consistantly turned a profit for two consecutive years" in order to have the right to teach does this community a huge disservice.  We are in a very quickly growing industry that is changing constantly.  Hell, a year and a half ago no one I know of was using vertical or hybrid system designs, now it seems like everyone is tinkering with them.  This kind of innovation will affect profitability.  And since most new businesses of any kind take a few year to even reach profitability, and few maintain it consistently, in my experience, you are presenting a nearly impossible standard for our young industry, John.  Can aquaponics sustain a family?  Yes.  Any answer beyond that has too many "it depends" surrounding it to be useful in a discussion like this.

 

The bottom line is of course honesty.  Anyone teaching a class is going to put their best foot forward when they are advertising the course.  As long as the course instructors are honest about their background and experience (and you can verify this by asking around), and answer direct questions about the course honestly, and privately, if they prefer, then the buyer can make their own educated decision based on the available choices out there.  If I am wanting to become an aquaponic farmer in 2012 then there really are only a few educational options available to me....and there is only one that is being taught by people who run a successful farm, which is successful based on the labor of the farm operators alone vs free interns. But they haven't been in operation for two years...and they are currently changing over some of their technology, which may hit their bottom line for a while.  Should this disqualify them from teaching others what they know?  Should the entire field of educators be held to a standard that will eliminate them all?  

Let our aspiring farmers make their choice based on selection criteria that is important to them...not arbitrary standards set forth on a forum thread.

I clicked the reply button without a reply.... I guess I was speechless...lol

 

I havbe been self-employed for most of my life.  I am certainly not wealthy, but I feel I have been hugely successful in having a career and life that I enjoy.  My "Business" has always been about creating things and helping people be more independant.  I have done everything from making a cutting board for a little old lady to the furnishings on multi-million dollar yachts, garden ponds to green houses, wrought iron gates to reproduction asian weapons, teaching 5 year olds to run and fall down without getting hurt, to a 92 year old lady how to move without falling down.  To be in business for yourself is a serious shift from working a 9 to 5.  Living to serve others.  Obviously, I look for compensation.  But I enjoy what I do, those that ask for my service trust me and I live up to my word.  I help people raise their children and teach them to be better parents, I build things for my customers that make their lives a little more comfortable, and or make their environment more attractive to them.  

Now I hope to make things for others that are useful and help them to provide for themselves in a tougher economy. Without a good reputation, honesty, and hard work, I would have been out of "business" long ago.  I am also known for telling people what they need to hear, not always for what they want to hear.  Most small businesses fail. Period.  They fail due to a lack of vision, lack of committment, and lack of faith in oneself.  I have been told I couldnt do what I was setting out to do all my life.  I have accomplished every one of those things to varying degrees of success because I believed and committed to it.

Now I have yet to have an employee... This is because I have friends who have larger businesses and lament their employees lack of effort and loyalty.  I am soon coming to a stage in life where I am going to have to delegate much of what I used to do. This will be a difficult transition.  Finding an apprentice that has the raw capacity to live up to my expectations is worrisome.  But if I can't then I will leave none of those skills behind that is slowly disappearing from our younger generation.

Ethics and profitability. Be honest, work hard, refine, be a part of the solution. You will have an ethical, and fulfilling career. Too much focus on profit will be the demise of your venture. Success should be measured by how fulfilling was the time you spent. People pay for what they value or what they think will make them happy.  I try to make things and teach people things of value. You cant buy happiness. You will always dissapoint your customer if this is what you try to sell them.

In the martial arts, I teach people that pain is a part of life. You can learn to ignore pain, avoid some pain, but eventually you will have to learn to embrace pain in order to be content in life.  As a craftsman, I build things to last, and to be aesthetically pleasing. This increases the value and the cost.  For those that appreciate the quality they are happy to pay the cost. For those seeking instant gratification... it is too "painful" lol. 

Enjoy what you do, do no harm, make an honest effort, and expect nothing more than to be reimbursed for your true accomplishment. There will be satisfaction in that. If your lucky, you will become popular and desireable and then financially successful as well.

you're all right when it comes to honesty, but the influx of money can contort a persons honesty.

 

i know of a few people that got into aquaponics with the best of intentions, but the all mighty dollar has contorted their business sense.

 

i've worked in the commercial aquaponics field for 9 months, dealing with all of the inns and outs of one of the largest farms of it's time, and there's still more to figure out.

 

when it comes to the back yard warriors, simply making upscaled projections based on your current small system is just that... theoretical projections. in your basic back yard system with 64sqft-100sqft you dont have to worry about things like dissolved oxygen dissipation across the lengths of your troughs or the fact that thousands of square feet of growing area is going to catch alot of rain when the skies do decide to open up.

 

also the aspect of a trained eye is a big factor in a large scale aquaponics system... you miss one diseased plant in your small system it only takes days to drain and clean out the system and refill it... on a commercial scale, something like this could end up costing thousands of dollars in lost products.

 

and one of the biggest things that the back yard warriors are neglecting to teach when it comes to commercial production is all of the other things that  need to be taught like food safety practices and cross-contamination.

 

yes, there are places in the world where people's average wage is only 4$-$5 a day, an no, their housing is not provided. it's a first world concept that  this is not doable because we, as first worlders, find it hard to believe that living on less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes is impossible.

 

so like i said before, is a mix of social acceptability... on the scale first worlders, it is wrong to exploit people of lower means for profit gain, but on the scales of 2nd and 3rd world communities the appearance of "high paying" jobs in respects to their current standards is a god send... so where do you draw the line of what is right and wrong to do in this situation? i think that if you are going to exploit these people in this way you should at least make it a benefit to these people... if you're going to exploit the low wage base, you should at least not pay them their accepted minimum.

 

and yes, it is always up to the consumer to make their best judgement call as to what to spend their money on, but even those people of the best intentions wanting to teach the basics under the guise of teaching commercialization is still wrong no matter which way you spin it.

 

i've seen things all over the inter net like, "have a commercial aquaponics farm with only 1 hour of work a day," and, "grow 1 million pounds of food on just 3 acres of land,".... yes, these do exist, and no this isn't a joke... i've worked on a commercial farm and i know for darn sure it takes more that an hour a day to harvest a sellable crop. and i did the math... it would take 57 bull african elephants on 3 acres of land to equal 1 million pounds of food, and thats counting the bone masses as food... so they're are people that are stretching the truth as to time constraints and food production counting waste products as viable food... i know that when we harvested a lettuce mix for the farm i was on we didnt count the bad lettuce that was unsellable as part of the total food production numbers... that would be a lie... yes a total of 400lbs was produced in the harvesting period, but only 220lbs of it was edible... it know it all counts as food production, but you wouldnt eat rotting lettuce now would you can call it a part of the sum total?

 

it's the messing around with numbers that is the biggest down fall in the ethics of going commercial. counting your waste produced as part of the sellable product just because it was grown at the same time... thats like making two meat ball subs at once, dropping one on the floor, and saying they are both acceptable for sale since they were made at the same time...

i have to ammend a previous statement.... when  said "we" didnt calculate the waste as part os the sum total of production, what i meant was "I" didn't calculate the waste as part of the total. the people i worked for added the waste as part of the prduction figures... this is, unethical... you cant count unsellable product as part of production.

let's say you're producing 400lbs of lettuce per week, but 100lbs of it suffered some sort of aphid infestation or just flat out root rotted... you're correct in saying that you did still produce 400lbs of lettuce in that set time frame, but you nly produce 300lbs of viable product... now is it fare to sell this as producing 400lbs of food? if it happens only once annually i would think so. but if you're consistently showing a 25% failure rate in crop production you cant call that failed 25% part of the total food production.

 

if i find a chicken head in my 6 piece McNugget i'll be going back inside demanding my lost nugget.

 

and yes rupert, this was a bit of setting a cat among the pidgeons, but fo rthose that know me, know all to well that im pretty good at ruffeling a few feathers.

 

i do consider myself to be an ethical human being... and finding someone at my age with ethics is getting harder and harder these days. if you build a business that centers around burning people for a profit, you lose your return customer base... and without that, no busines can survive... but whats happening in aquaponics is people are being turned off to the idea because a few unethical people are burning other so badly that it makes those people no longer interested in aquaponics..

 

since i spent half of my life cooking in restaurants i'll use a fitting restaurant metephor... you go to get a bite to eat at a new palce... the food you ordered was so poorly prepared that it puts you off your meal. after an expierence like that you wouldnt in your right mind go back to the same place and just order something else... it's in your head that if one meal was that bad, then all meals repared there are going to be just a poor. so what do yo do next? you tell your friends! and you lose that persons patronage as well as their close friends... and their friends tell their friends about the expirence the frist person had, and so on... the same thing is happening with aquaponics... people get involved with one unethical crook and they thing we're all crooks...

 

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