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.
We would remove all roots below the net pot, remove the pot and bag the remaining root-ball and coir. The plants do not do very well when replaced into the system after removal of the lower roots. The coir acts as a asponge and if kept moist can keep heads in near perfect condition with a littile cooling. We used to sell live lettuce at the health food store. When the produce guy was on top of things and kept the coir moist they could keep the lettuce alive for more than a week in their cooled produce display. We have kept live lettuce in the back of our fridge for more than 3 weeks in near perfect condition.
Once bagged I think it is best to sell it instead of trying to restock it. If things are not selling well at the market we would to 2 for 1 specials toward the end so we wouldn't be taking much back home. We also traded with other vendors using our leftovers.
One great trick is using the drug dealer approach. Give away the first bag for free and get them hooked. When at the market I would get people who were super interested in the concept but wouldn't for over a few bucks to try it. For these people I gave away a bag of my best leafy greens. Quite often they would return and purchase. Some of them are still regular customers using our fridge. I also went around my neighborhood and gave away a head to everybody in a 1 block radius. That got the word of mouth going which is the best kind of advertising.
I had a 55 gallon drum in the truck for filling the portable system at the market. I would place the empty portable troughs in the back of the truck and sit the rafts for display on 2x4's to prevent root damage during transport. Once at the market I would set up the display and fill it up from the drum in the truck. I would take system water but no fish. Tilapia do not like road trips! The roots of the plants are fine without water for a short time. The trick is to NOT let the roots dry at all. I left 1/2 inch of water in the portable trough so the roots had a little bit of water.
Once again, Hi Guys,
Had another questions about details. SInce you guys have done this, I am sure you have the technique down...and hopefully are willing to pass along the wisdom required for us to duplicate...
In doing some research about avoiding pathogenic contamination of produce going to market, I came up with a question I cannot find an answer for, simply because I am sure it is a 'technique" question...This is in regard to getting live lettuce, the stuff with root balls still attached, bagged for market:
In light of the publication "On-Farm Food Safety: Aquaponics" found at http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/FST-38.pdf...looking at page three of the document and the picture of what not to do when harvesting the lettuce...how do you get the lettuce and root pot out of the raft without contaminating the head being removed and all the others with the AP water source? I realize that the goal is not to have any bad contaminants in the AP water... but the publication is pretty clear that this water should not be touched or come into contact with stuff headed for the market. (maybe I am mis-reading). Is is truly possible to remove the lettuce and pots with roots still attached, trim them as you suggested, remove the pot and bag the root ball, and not commit any of the "sins" indicated in this publication? Just want a reality check from some people in-the-know...and possibly some hints on how to do this properly.
Harvest day approaches....
That report is a recommended set of guidelines. I have been drinking my system water for several years and have NEVER had any problems with getting sick. In fact I believe the system water to be the best pro-biotic tea EVER!!!! I believe my health has improved since I began drinking system water. Having said that I am not too worried if a drop or two of water gets on the produce. I always put a sticker that said"wash before eating" and told every customer verbally to wash everything.
To follow the guidelines you have to use techniques that will eliminate any chance of system water getting on the produce. This can easily be done as a 2 man job. I did it solo. I would remove a raft from a trough and then remove all roots below the net pots. After placing the de-rooted raft in my processing trough, I wash hands. Then I would put my right hand inside a plastic bag and grab a head of lettuce with my left. Using the bag covered hand I would remove the net pot. I would then use the bagged hand to grab the root-ball and hold the plant upside down. Using the left hand I pull the rest of the bag over the head. The final step is to put a rubber band around the stem to prevent media getting on the produce.
Some places have strict health department regulations dealing with bagged produce. A proper processing facility may be required to cut and bag produce so check with your local agencies. Usually a farmer is allowed one cut in the field without a proper processing facility. Selling a live plant is a loophole in the regulations. If the plant is alive and has never been cut then we should be able to bag without violation but check with your local agencies!!
Thank you for this detail! ANd thank you for putting that PDF that had originally been posted in the "Aquaponics, Fish and E. coli" thread in perspective. YOu are brave to drink the water....Being a person who has sensitive intestines, I don't think I'd ever try a drink from mine, no matter how confident I was in any test results. Spent a life time of misery with other intestinal issues and just now feeling good - too good to risk. Congratulations to you though.
I think I could duplicate the technique you spelled out. Well written! Thanks for the help there. And thanks for the info. on live plants vs. 'food'. I'll check the reg.s here. I really appreciate your willingness to help out, and share details that may seem obvious to you ( and maybe others). I'm excited about being able to harvest live lettuce!