I was recently thinking about how operating a commercial aquaponic farm had similarities to my former business. Having run a huge construction firm when housing and commercial construction was booming far greater than it ever should have, we used to joke that we were pimps. People were always incredulous that two women operated a company that did trades as diverse as drywall and stucco to insulation, painting and metal framing. One look at me and they couldn’t imagine me on drywall stilts hanging sheetrock on a ceiling and neither could I! But what few realized was that we didn’t hang the drywall or the insulation or install the metal studs, we managed it. We solicited the sale, ‘pimped’ the labor and made it happen; all the while insuring it was done well.
How does this relate to commercial aquaponic farming? A few ways and I will tie it all in shortly, but first a couple things. Many want to know if commercial aquaponic farming is viable and so many still are of the opinion that it isn’t. Just recently, a longtime industry aquapon commented to me, “You can’t make any money with aquaponics! You know that now, right?”, he asked, inferring that we couldn’t possibly be successful. I said no, you are wrong. We are definitely figuring out how to do it. It is not easy but it is undeniably possible as long as you think outside the box. You must be nimble and innovative and willing to take risks. I don’t think that is a recipe akin to just an aquaponic endeavor, but any business venture, and absolutely essential ingredients for any entrepreneur.
With a young operation, insuring a profit soley on selling the produce can be a challenge, as a clientele needs to be secured, viable and desirable crops determined and much more. When we and others eeking out a living at commercial aquaponics are criticized for utilizing trainings or system sales or consultations as additional streams of revenue, I am amazed at the short sightedness of that criticism. For some reason, the expectation is that you must solely weigh your success by selling only the fruits of your system, literally, and that diversification is frowned upon. To me diversification spells a good, rock solid business model that can weather setbacks because it has multiple revenue streams especially when pioneering a new industry. Yet when it comes to commercial AP, it seems to be tainted and criticized.
I do realize that the more that join our ranks, there will be less of a possibility for many to tap into things such as trainings or consultations. However, the more that join in my opinion will minimize the need to rely on these very things as more data will come available and the risks will be minimized and the path made clear. Perhaps the trainings and the consultations will lie with the pioneers or trend setters, the ones that boldly went forward into unchartered aquaponic waters and mapped out the unknown. .
Speaking of risks, some are of the opinion that teaching this very business of commercial aquaponic farming is a risk. Some think we are crazy for creating what they consider our own competition. Often folks will reassure me, as they pick my brain for essential commercial information, that they are geographically far enough away to not be my competition. I laugh. There is so much demand for local, chem free, organically grown, good food, that it will be a very long time before this market is flooded. I welcome them. In fact I tell them that I wish they were closer so we could partner up and optimize our output by specializing crop plantings to supply local needs. You grow x, y, z and I grow a, b, c. That is over simplifying it, but essentially multiple farms could collaborate and support each other while supplying the local market. Unlike in my former cutthroat industry, I hope to foster an atmosphere of collaboration instead of competition.
I am always excited when others we inspire and teach and then replicate our raft type systems are close by as now I can rely on them to help supply the demand of our local market that we have already tapped into. Hmm, not too unlike what we did with construction. We solicit the sale, “pimp” the produce and make sure it is all done well, while also helping other commercial farms get established and become successful as well. Nothing wrong with that at all.
I don't think the fact that stuff is grown aquaponically scares anyone off. While I was at the market, even the people who came to the booth and were freaked out by the fact that it was grown using FISH POOP were brought around to how great it was in all of a couple of minutes. Now sometimes people just gape for a bit while the idea sinks in but then (sometimes with some prompting) people remember that "organic" produce is usually grown with cow poop (hopefully composted first of course.)
I do believe that Growing more Food for Every Drop of Water is a big selling point and that is only possible with recirculating bio-ponics.
Then again, if you have customers who just want to buy lettuce and herbs, what do they really care if it's hydroponic or aquaponic (chances are they won't even really distinguish between the words so what does it matter?)
Hi Ryan, thanks for your thoughts. I really don't see it as a need to "divulge" that we are growing aquaponically, that almost makes it seem like we are doing something covert that needs to be hidden. I think we absolutely need to educate the consumer at every opportunity. Yes it is organic, but aquaponic growing is unique in a number of ways and boasts many advantages, so why not capitalize on that? There's not enough of an emphasis that we are using aquaponics, IMO, because if there was, everyone would be doing it! Believe me, I am not opposed to making a buck but at the same time, I want to be sure they also know that the carrot in their yappers was grown aquaponically! ;-)
Why exacly do we need to divludge that we are growing aquaponically? Its Organic yes? Theres plenty of successful organic farmers out there. Theres too much of an emphasis that we are using Aquaponics… Its natural that people fear the unknown. Sometimes rightfully so, and in this case not. So leave out that fear factor to the ignorant multitudes, and put a carrot in thier yappers. and make a buck.
I so wanted to use add to the flavorful wording on this post.. aww but hey dont want to reopen any papercuts..
No worries at all Ellen! My feathers are fine! ;)
Raychel, mahalo! Your words are very kind. I too am looking forward to meeting you in September!
Gina Take this from a much older woman living in paradise, addicted to aquaponics, knows squat about construction, and wishes she was a lot younger so that she could consider doing something commercial or pushing the idea that aquaponics is thearaputic and finding a way to have program to help our brain injured veterans. The latter idea I am going to try to persuade some other addicted aquapon to take up.
The market out there is so large none of us will ever be able to fill it. We are a horse of a different breed, sure money is important but showing people that is not that hard to grow healthy food is always on our mind. I am so impressed with what you have done in so little time. Keep it up and as one advisor once told me many years ago grow a skin like an armadillo. I say add a little duck skin and let it roll off. You are doing great things and pulling us all together. That is the only way this thing we love will go forward. I am looking forward to meeting you when I get to Florida. Hang in and keep on keeping on.
Aloha and Mahalo for all you do Raychel
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