Finding Your Roots in Water: Aquaponics Association Conference Set for September in San Jose
August 18, 2014 | Trish Popovitch
Aquaponic-philes everywhere can look forward to three days of tours, trips and technical know-how at the September conference of the Aquaponics Association. This year’s conference will be held in San Jose, CA and runs from September 12 -13. The conference plays a significant role in normalizing and promoting what could be the future of American farming.
Meg Stout, engineer and the current chairman of the Aquaponics Association, feels she is a neutral leader in a time when aquaponics is becoming ever more prevalent and ever more competitive.
“I’m looking to see aquaponics, particularly in America, continue to grow up and to move away from this wild west where there are people selling snake oil,” says Stout.
Misinformation surrounding aquaponics and the number of folks taking advantage of would-be growers is a challenge for the AA and aquaponics in general.
“What we’re finding so often is that people have heard about aquaponics, maybe watched a TV show, and then they go ahead and try it and they don’t actually know what they’re doing,” says Stout. “It’s one thing if you are talking about your backyard system; it’s another thing if you’ve taken your life savings or possibly from your family members and you’ve created a thing that cannot work.”
The AA’s conference is an opportunity to correct perceptions while educating growers. “I want them leave with a solid understanding of both the benefits and the procedures that are required to grow successfully and to grow safely,” says Stout.
The AA’s weekend conference will offer tours of local farms, professional presentations, hands on workshops, keynote speakers and, new this year, short courses in basic aquaponics. Stout wanted to ensure attendees received a well-rounded experience, balancing diverse aquaponic schools of thought with a strong foundation in the fundamentals.
“That’s part of the purpose of the conference; to bring together a lot of individuals and experts so that you don’t just get the particular world view of whomever you happen to be taking the class from,” says Stout. “You’ll hear from a lot of different people and people who are actually in there doing this.”
One of the big names speaking at this year’s conference is Charles Shultz.
“For people who know aquaponics, who know the academics and history of serious aquaponics, he is the huge draw,” says Stout. Shultz spent 14 years teaching aquaponics at the University of the Virgin Islands, and gained a second masters in aquaponics from the University of Kentucky with a focus on lighting systems. Shultz will be on loan from Lethbridge College in Canada, and will be speaking at Saturday’s dinner.
Stout notes that many aquaponics professionals work in Canada, where the concept is much more accepted than in the States.
“I’m just really heartened that Canada’s really leading the charge on aquaponics. It’s kinda fun to find out that places that get crazy frigid cold are moving into this way of growing things,” says Stout.
Despite its positive contribution to sustainable agriculture, aquaponics remains a fringe movement among the larger agricultural community. Stout hopes the conference encourages traditional farmers to branch out and not be afraid to incorporate aquaponics into their farm’s plan.
“Your roots are in water whether it’s drought outside or weather its pouring rain,” says Stout. “It gives you a guaranteed stable crop. That’s why I think traditional farmers would do well to start off with a small hobby system. They may be surprised at how much benefit their overall farm operation would gain from just a small diversification into this area.”