As a hydroponic grower, fishing guide, aquaponics teacher, wetland restoration expert and breeder of native bait, Barry Thoele is a man of all sustainable trades.
“The industrial model that we have right now, I understand it, I don’t like it and I don’t condone it,” says Thoele. “If I’m going to speak out against it, I need to offer something else.”
By combining a penchant for invention with a self-taught approach, Thoele has worked through trial-and-error to determine what works best for his land.
Despite being among the top three seafood consuming countries in the world, the United States produces less than one percent of the world’s farmed fish. After becoming aware of this incredible discrepancy, Paula Daniels, former Senior Food Policy Advisor to the mayor of Los Angeles and founder of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, began asking important questions about the future of aquaculture in the United States.
Specifically, Daniels began exploring why the United States is falling behind so substantially in the production of farmed fish, and how aquaculture can be practiced sustainably so it can become an integral part of our regional food networks.
Success has come fast for Beverly and Dave McConnell of Utterback Farms in Middletown, Missouri. Almost overnight, the couple has established an aquaponic farm and are just months away from making a profit.
The McConnells inherited the farm, which was established at the turn of the last century, from Beverly McConnell’s parents. It was Beverly’s avid gardening hobby, inherited from her Depression-era grandmother, which led the couple to enter the world of commercial growing in their retirement.
From new farmers, aquaponicists and sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs to urban farming pioneers, microloan providers and crowdfunding evangelists, yesterday’s 2nd Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Innovation conference at UCLA Anderson School of Management provided clear evidence pointing to the desire, will and motivation to develop economically viable and sustainable farming solutions to insure that the food system of the future not only survives, but thrives.
The two-day event, which drew an audience of nearly 250 from as far afield as New Zealand, Mexico and Korea, kicked off on November 5 with a sustainable farm field trip to Houweling’s Tomatoes in Camarillo where attendees were treated to an in-depth tour of the company’s sustainable 125-acre hydroponic greenhouse. Following the tour of Houweling’s, attendees headed over to McGrath Family Farms for a farm-to-table lunch provided by Chef/farmer Adam Navidi of Green2GO Restaurant Market. Following the lunch, farmer Phil McGrath gave the attendees a tour of his 5th generation organic farm and explained how he has used sustainable growing practices and direct marketing to remain economically viable. One of McGrath’s keys to farming successfully: “Grow a huge diversity of things and grow in season.”
In June 2011, Ken Armstrong watched a YouTube video that would change the course of his life. The video was created by urban farmer Will Allen, founder of the sustainable agriculture nonprofit Growing Power, Inc. and avid proponent of aquaponic farming. A year later, in June 2012, Armstrong would break ground on his own aquaponic operation, Ouroboros Farms.
Armstrong and his business partner Kenji Snow started Ouroboros with a strong desire to join the future of farming. “We wanted to be innovators and a model for a new integrated, living ecosystem methodology of farming that partners with nature, rather than trying to overcome it,” said Armstrong.
The world’s over-fished oceans have reached maximum sustainable yield at about 90 million metric tons per year, and many fish species like tuna are facing extinction. Not only is seafood over-fished, but it is oftentimes imported and obtained through unsustainable fishing and economic practices.
Bill Spencer, president and CEO of Hawaii Oceanic Technology, Inc., recognized this problem and a number of others with the commercial fishing industry. “The United States imports 85 percent of the seafood is consumes, half of which is farmed, resulting in a $12 billion trade deficit, the second largest natural resource trade deficit behind foreign oil,” he relays. “The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has declared that we need to double farmed-seafood output within 30 years to meet demand.”
As a response to these statistics, Spencer and oceanographer Paul Troy set out to make the commercial fishing industry more sustainable, forming Hawaii Oceanic Technology in 2006.
The idea of eating only locally-grown, seasonal food sounds appealing. Until you move to the desert. With an average annual rainfall of less than 13 inches, Tucson, Arizona is somewhat less than hospitable to traditional, soil-based agriculture. And fish? Forget it.
But, it was not the land that drew Stéphane Herbert-Fort to the Sonoran desert. It was the sky. He came to the University of Arizona to study astronomy and graduated with a PhD in 2011. Midway through his grad studies, however, he unearthed a deeper ambition than life as an academic.
“As a longtime fan of sustainable technologies and organic gardening, I wanted to join the two and make an impact on urban agriculture in Tucson. It was the perfect time for a change. Aquaponics fulfills my passions: to grow as much food as possible, simply and sustainably.”
Hydroponics, the practice of growing crops in nutrient-rich water as opposed to soil, in concert with aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs, etc., creates a sustainable, symbiotic farming system called aquaponic farming. Aquaponic farming is not a new form of farming, but other than many of the readers of this website few people know about it. Three men, Gabriel Michels, Timothy Kirk and Nicholas Fox, who partnered to create Grass Roots Aquaponic Farms LLC, located in Oregon City, Oregon, hope to change that. The idea was planted years ago.
“Actually, I was inspired back in high school,” says Michels. “That was about 10 years ago. Nic and I were in the same class and our school got a grant to have a complete aquaponic setup. It was great! We grew all kinds of vegetables.”