Today we sold at our 3rd different farmer's market. Despite the early morning hours that make you very aware that you are really farming, the markets have been a wonderful experience. Today's market was in our home town of Brooksville and although it started off slow, soon there was a steady trickle of people strolling by. Many stop and stare incredulously with quite the perplexed look on their faces at our small aquaponic demo unit. We built a tiny table top unit with a grow bed above the fish tank so that people could have a better understanding of how aquaponics works. It is interesting how the vast majority scrutinze the system and see the water pumping up to the grow bed and funneling back down to the fish tank but are still amazed that the fish actually play a vital role. There is a lot of recognition of hydroponics and most immediately think we are hydroponic growers. Which in all reality we are, except our fish generate our nutrients rather than buying them in gallon jugs from the local hydro store. However, once the realization is made, the amazement that ensues is quite entertaining. Someone actually squealed today when they realized those lovely little lettuces were being grown by fish poo!
So, once they are now amazed, we start talking and teaching about aquaponics and inevitably most buy our produce after chatting for a little while. We offer samples on the spot when people inquire if the lettuce has a fishy taste or if it is any better than conventionally or hydroponically grown. So far, everyone is pleasantly surprised and often comment on how sweet, thick or crunchy the leaves are. Today, we sold out with still an hour to go. I think another great part of the allure is that we bring live plants to the market. We have large totes lined with 1/2" Dow blue board and rafts that look like swiss cheeze set inside them. In these we pack approximately 48 lettuce heads still in the net pot with roots intact and fill up the bottom with water. We have a small deep cell battery and an inverter that powers a small blower so we can deliver aeration to the roots. Without this, with the days warming up, we noticed the roots turning dark and slimy by the time we returned home from our first market. Our intention is not only to sell a 'live' plant, but to be able to return it to the system in the event it doesn't sell. So far this has been not only an excellent marketing strategy, but we don't have to try to refrigerate cut produce that didn't sell and try to find a buyer for it immediately. The biggest challenge seems to be gauging the window of when the plant is of suitable size and getting it sold at perhaps another market a few days later before it bolts. The unseasonably warm temps have not been helping!
So along with patrons reeling over the fact that they have never before bought such a fresh product, they are also amazed at the science that produced it. We have quite a good system where Tonya cuts, dunks in icewater to crisp, shakes and bags, while I talk and take the money. Those of you that know me, know that the talking part is quite easy for me and handling them money is no problem too.
The only drawback we have found so far is that the frequent transport has been very taxing on our poor little demo fish. We had two beautiful large gold fish that perished after a few trips and we have now transitioned to what are called feeder fish. These little gold fish look alikes are very economically priced so when they too perish at least it is not too costly, however, we have quite the ethical dilemma. We feel bad because we keep killing fish. They are exposed to constant water changes, bouncing about, temperature changes and frequent children's fingers rapping on their little abode. So, after 13 of the 20 we bought yesterday either spun about in the moving water or were to weak to free themselves from the suction of the pump, Tonya did the honors of helping them along to their final resting place. So this afternoon, we decided rather than buying another batch of feeder fish and allowng them to perish, that we would buy some stickers of fish and place them on the tank. Funny, these little fish are only alive to fulfill one purpose; they are 'feeder' fish, although what they are fed to I don't know. However, I guess with us just using them and them not fulfilling their destiny, we felt bad and decided to not kill anymore little fish.
We will have to see how our demo is received with fish stickers on the tank as opposed to live fish. We even considered suspending some goldfish crackers, but being we still want the water to circulate, decided that wouldn't be a good option. We will explain to our interested onlookers why we now have stickers and not live fish and hope they still understand the concept while also appreciating our humane thinking. Stay tuned to find out how the sticker fish are received!