Aquaponic Gardening

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We have developed a system to sell our live lettuce and other produce at farmers markets or anywhere away from the farm. Basically we have created a miniature mobile AQ system that is compatible with our raft sizes. We have 2 troughs that are 2'x4'. We hook them in series and use a 30 gallon trash can for a reservoir. We fill the can with system water but do not take fish anymore. We found that tilapia do not like to travel much! We put a small pond pump into the can to circulate water at the market and keep the produce fresh. The pump is powered by a car battery and a small inverter.

 

 

At the market we display beautiful live produce which really stands out to customers walking by. The visual presentation attracts a LOT of interest and in turn sales. The beat part is that the produce that doesn't sell can be taken back to the farm and put back into the system for our next farm sale.

 

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Very nice :-)

Good idea with vertical. It would be great to have a vertical filed with herds next to the other produce. The only issue is transporting it the market. I live on a volcano at 1500' and all the markets are down the hill so I have to make everything very secure to go on the road.

christopher john muns said:

well done chris. i also want to do something like this.I was thinking of maybe bringing a vertical tower setup possibly. good stuff man. gets the gears turning.

Hi Chris;
Would you be willing to give more details on your farmers market setup? I'd love to do the same thing here in Minnesota. What did you make the traveling troughs from? Do you transfer all the water in the garbage can? I'd think you'd lose some water because the lid isn't that tight? Those tables are strong enough to hold water-filled troughs?

Brilliant setup.
-Karen
How many lettuce heads does each 2x4 area hold?  Do you only bring enough lettuce for the 2x 2x4 rafts or do you have more in the van?  It doesn't seem like a farmer's market would bring in a lot of money if you only expect to sell a few dozen heads of lettuce!

When we were doing farmers markets we would transport 2 display troughs that are 2'x4'. We would also take 2 large coolers stuffed with pre-bagged produce. When a customer wants something we would sell out of the cooler first and leave the plants in the display for last. After many hours of hot farmers market the plants in the display are still thriving and drawing people from across the market. If we did not sell everything we would take the display rafts home and put then back into the system.

If you decide to go this rout be prepared to piss off a few other vendors!! This type of setup will attract a lot of attention and take sales away from others.

The farmers market was also a good place for us to advertise our farm sales, tours, and classes. We now have a lot of regular customers at our farm sales due to them discovering us at the market.

We now do our own farmers market on our farm! We decided it was MUCH easier to let people come to us rather than us packing up and taking it to them. We now sell %100 of our produce direct from the farm. Getting the public to come to the farm also helps sell our other services such as classes and system sales.

We are starting a food exchange at our farm sales. We are inviting anybody with fruit, or any other produce that would otherwise go to waste, to trade with us so we can offer more diversity at our sales. We are going to promote this heavily this spring and summer. There are many trees in the area that are dropping good fruit on the ground all summer. We would like get that food out to our customers.(I guess this should be its own topic!)

Wow, that's a great idea about the food exchange Chris.  'Congrats' on not needing to go to the market anymore. I'm learning, first hand, what a pain that can be.
Fantastic way you are developing your business in a progressive, structured manner.  I hope a lot of other people learn from your methods because I really think it is one of the most logical forrays into commercial expansion that I have ever followed.

Chris Smith said:

When we were doing farmers markets we would transport 2 display troughs that are 2'x4'. We would also take 2 large coolers stuffed with pre-bagged produce. When a customer wants something we would sell out of the cooler first and leave the plants in the display for last. After many hours of hot farmers market the plants in the display are still thriving and drawing people from across the market. If we did not sell everything we would take the display rafts home and put then back into the system.

If you decide to go this rout be prepared to piss off a few other vendors!! This type of setup will attract a lot of attention and take sales away from others.

The farmers market was also a good place for us to advertise our farm sales, tours, and classes. We now have a lot of regular customers at our farm sales due to them discovering us at the market.

We now do our own farmers market on our farm! We decided it was MUCH easier to let people come to us rather than us packing up and taking it to them. We now sell %100 of our produce direct from the farm. Getting the public to come to the farm also helps sell our other services such as classes and system sales.

We are starting a food exchange at our farm sales. We are inviting anybody with fruit, or any other produce that would otherwise go to waste, to trade with us so we can offer more diversity at our sales. We are going to promote this heavily this spring and summer. There are many trees in the area that are dropping good fruit on the ground all summer. We would like get that food out to our customers.(I guess this should be its own topic!)

For farmers market sales we would grow large mature heads that we could sell for $3. To get big heads we would use an 8" spacing in the rafts which gives up 18 heads per 2x4. For our bagged mixed lettuce we use a 6" spacing which gives us 28 heads per 2x4. The closer spacing works better for smaller heads at a faster turnover in the system, but a little more labor in planting. We now mainly sell 9 oz bags of mixed baby head lettuce for $5. Our customers prefer having the cut and mix smaller heads over larger live heads.

izzy said:
How many lettuce heads does each 2x4 area hold?  Do you only bring enough lettuce for the 2x 2x4 rafts or do you have more in the van?  It doesn't seem like a farmer's market would bring in a lot of money if you only expect to sell a few dozen heads of lettuce!
Thank you again Chris for the detailed and practical information!  I think I have learned more from these few posts than entire blogs and forums!  Thanks again! :-)

  A question about details:

    I am not sure I understand your description of your sales completely.  Sorry if this is obvious to everyone else...

   So what I think you said was that you have a display of live lettuce, but you sell out of a cooler.  YOu mentioned that the lettuce in the cooler is pre-bagged...so is it live or is it cut?  SO really, if it is cut, what you are selling is no different than the stuff the other farmers are selling (except that it is grown in an AP system)? Your sign on your booth table says Live lettuce...but what your customers buy is NOT live?  Please clarify.  Just trying to figure out how best to do this at market myself.

When we sold at farmers markets we would take coolers of live bagged lettuce heads that were prepped the evening before the market. To bag live lettuce we put the head and root-ball into an appropriate sized bag and rubber band outside the bag just above the root-ball.We would also take a few rafts of lettuce for our display. The display of live lettuce gets the attention of customers from across the market and motivates them to come to our booth. We would sell the pre-bagged lettuce first and once the coolers were empty we would sell the display.

We no longer do the farmers markets. A 4 hour market takes about 10 hours of work + gas and there is no guarantee that you will sell all the produce. Produce had to be prepped, the truck loaded, drive to market, set up display, sell during market hours, break down display, drive home, unload truck, and clean up. The market proved to be more work than it was worth. Our Saturday mornings are now spent providing farm tours and educating our neighbors how much better our produce is than certified "o".

We now sell all our produce directly off our farm through a small honor farm refrigerator that we stock several times a day(or as needed). Our neighborhood can come and purchase produce at their conveyance and we do not have to transport anything anymore. The fridge is open for business every day during daylight hours. Allowing our customers the flexibility of purchasing produce at their convenience has increased our customer base substantially. We get new customers primarily through word of mouth.

We also stopped selling at the local health food store since we could grow the lettuce faster than it took to get payed from them!! Cutting out the middle man we can give our customers a better deal while getting a better price than what the health food store was willing to pay.

   Thank you for this detailed explanation.  It is much clearer to me now....

  One more question:

     I realize the goal is to sell-out at a market...but in regard to the live bagged lettuce that you put into bags the night before the market: Can those be successfully replaced into the AP system if they do not sell?  As in, do they stay alive and in vibrant health to be able to be presented for sales at another time?  I realize the lettuce you kept in your display rafts can be replaced in your AP system...but I was not sure about the bagged live ones. I figured you'd know...

     By the way...this is very encouraging!

 

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