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This is a very exciting time for us at Green Acre Organics.  As is typical when students or apprentices make their own way and expand upon their body of learning and knowledge, Tonya and I at Green Acre have moved on from our affiliation with Friendly Aquaponics.   We appreciate the building block our teachers have provided us, however our separation proves to be a necessary next step in our aquaponic evolution.  This evolution means the launching of our own training program this coming year with new and ground breaking technology based upon what we have learned and incorporated into our system and business philosophy.  This is a hyrbridized system approach that introduces media growing and will optimize our small farm business and production capabilities.
We are grateful to Tim and Susanne for providing the framework from which we have now developed our own philosophy.  It must be very much like when a parent sees the culmination of all their efforts, teaching, direction and guidance result in a productive, independent thinking adult.  As that aquaponic “adult”, we will fall back on those basics but now will also pass along what we have learned and our own new philosophical ideologies to what now will be our offspring, so to speak.  
We began our path completely invested in DWC, however we are now developing what we consider to be our diversified system approach, designed to maximize system productivity, nutrient density and crop diversity.   Also our marketing approach has evolved in the sense that we focus on community integration and leveraging our personal connections with our customers to move our products.  
In the research that led to our hybridized or integrated system approach, it became apparent to us that much could be gained in raft type systems by eliminating the need to remove the incredibly valuable solid fish waste. Not only did we lose the additional layer of metabolization that could occur when removing the solids, but it was labor intensive and we literally were removing nutrient value from the system.  It became very clear that adding a media bed thriving with red worms to metabolize the solid waste and elevate the bacterial population in a DWC system could have tremendous benefits.

We also realized that integrating media beds with a DWC system would allow us to diversify our crops.   Not everything grows well in raft type systems and some things do not grow at all.  This led us to is develop the concept of the hybridized family farm.  This hybridized design allows the small farmer to grow a wide variety of crops for farmers markets, CSA’s, health food stores and chef’s clamoring for fresh, local, naturally grown produce.   

Regarding our marketing philosophy, again it really developed as we settled into knowing our market and clientele and it became apparent that we would not benefit from securing Organic certification.  Not only did we not want to incur the additional cost of certification, neither did our clientele.  Whereas a farm with a business plan to sell to big box stores, grocers or distributors absolutely needs the certification to guarantee higher wholesale pricing, the small family farm selling directly to its customers does not.  Instead the family farm seeks to secure its clientele by becoming ingrained in the community; advocating the mantra of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.  When we asked our clients if they wanted us to get “O cert”, 96% of them responded with a resounding NO.  They didn’t need the USDA to insure to them what they already knew.  They simply trusted us to grow their clean and natural food.

The other key reason for us to not get Organic certification is in keeping with part of our mission statement to make “organic” or chemical free, quality, nutrient dense food more affordable for our community.  Quickly, we saw a sweet spot for our pricing develop and we were able to comfortably settle inbetween conventional and organic pricing.  This pricing not only boosted our revenues but helped maintain our philosophy that you shouldn’t have to be wealthy to eat healthy.  The only issue we have come up against regarding not getting organic certification is our name, as when we choose it, we had obviously intended to get certified.  We are currently in discussions with the “powers that be” to find out if we can maintain our name as we are also a distributor of organic products via our produce buying club.  Worst case scenario, we will have to change our farm’s name to Green Acre “something else”!

Now for the really exciting part!   We have had the incredible good fortune to pair up with two of the biggest names in Aquaponics today to teach the most comprehensive, up to date aquaponic training classes available for the small farm.  Our new training program focuses on teaching how to replicate our new model, the hybridized family farm.  By teaching others how to do what we do, we can breathe new vitality into our country’s industrialized food supply and a new way of life for those that do it.  The effects are far reaching.  We can help fuel the re-localization of the food supply while also invigorating local economies.

We have teamed up with the media growing guru himself, Murray Hallam, to insure the best and most relevant delivery of media growing know-how.  When we decided to hybridize our system, we asked the master and he not only advised us on how to do it but agreed to help teach others what he taught us.   Along with Murray, we have solicited the lady that is proving to be the best-selling author of the best book ever written about aquaponics (hit #3 on Amazon’s Best Selling Gardening and Horticulture books this week!), Sylvia Bernstein.  Sylvia’s business savvy and expertise with a Masters in Business from the top business school in the nation was undeniably the best choice to bring our students incredible guidance and knowledge when it comes to planning and marketing their farm business. We realize that running a small aquaponic farm is much more than just growing fish and veggies and in order for our students to be successful, we need to also provide the business tools to help guarantee that success.  

On our website, we say how incredulous we are that we get to do what we do.  We still are incredulous and it just keeps getting better.  We grow food, we feed people, and now along with two of the most incredible people in our industry, we get to teach others how to do what we do.  Wow.  How cool is that?

We will be offering two back to back Small Farm training classes here in Brooksville, FL from April 21st  to the 28th.  More exciting details will be coming soon.  Enrollment will be limited, so be sure to check in with us often so you can be a part of what we call the Farm Revolution.  Thanks for joining us.  

Gina Cavaliero and Tonya Penick
Green Acre Organics
Brooksville, FL

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Comment by David W. Russell on October 8, 2011 at 9:41am

Very cool.  When are the classes.....I am going to be there.


Comment by TCLynx on October 8, 2011 at 6:53am

Hum, what would happen if one were to simply fill a settling tank with media?

Do you think it would just get too mucked up?

Comment by Nigel Clement on October 8, 2011 at 4:37am
Truth be told Gina, I believe I will have to do that. I'm going to experiment on the smaller system at home first then hopefully the results will be had in time for construction.
Comment by Murray Hallam on October 8, 2011 at 2:26am
I am as excited as Gina and Sylvia. (maybe more so) to be involved.  It is going to be the best ever, packed with good practical info as well as the technical stuff.
And we will all have loads of fun...
Comment by Gina Cavaliero on October 7, 2011 at 9:55pm
Nigel, won't you be now eliminating your solid settling tank?  No worries.  I will still draw up the baffle design for you if you like.
Comment by Gina Cavaliero on October 7, 2011 at 9:52pm

Thanks everyone!  The hybridized system is pretty much a no-brainer, isn't it?   As for the training, Woohooo! We love to teach and now I get to do it with two of my favorite people too.  All grins here!  

Hey Wayne, I told you that you would be coming back to Florida!    Nigel, I still haven't done your sketch yet, but won't you be el...

Comment by Nigel Clement on October 7, 2011 at 8:58pm
Gina, excellent news! Its the direction I'm actually going but still coming up with my outline plans. The conference and subsequent interaction with Murray coupled with Sylvia's book convinced me to go hybrid to be able to realise significant crop diversity. As usual my system at home is going to be my lab and then I'll seek to roll it out at the farm thereafter. You know I'll be bugging you with my thoughts, discoveries and incidents.
Comment by TCLynx on October 7, 2011 at 7:55pm
I think Green Acre Aquaponics or Green Acre Aquatics would be a great name change if you have to do it.
Comment by Wayne Hall on October 7, 2011 at 7:21pm

Congratulations Gina & Tonya,

This is excellent news! I'm looking forward to all the new and exciting things that you guys will be bringing to the aquaponics community, and look forward to learning about it first hand, I will definitely be coming to Brooksville in April to be apart of the Farm Revolution and sharing that wealth of knowledge with my fellow Bahamian Farmers.

Comment by Rob Torcellini on October 7, 2011 at 6:11pm
Congrats on the step forward!  When I was down visiting the various farms, I was amazed with the raft systems and how much area (and time or money) was wasted by dealing with the solids, but I like the simplicity of the rafts.  My new greenhouse was designed all with media based beds, but after much thought, I redesigned the entire greenhouse to be a media and raft system.  (luckily I haven't built this part of it yet!)  Your step in this direction confirms my thought process on this.  ;-)  Looking forward to see what you're up to.

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