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.
Not many restaurateurs would commit to building their own aquaponics system in the basement of their restaurant. But Anton Kotar, owner of Anton’s Taproom in Kansas City, Mo., had experience raising tropical fish and tending plants in his home so he knew he could make the sustainable, aquaponic-restaurant concept work.
Anton’s Taproom opened in October 2012, and started serving food on November 1. And Kotar worked on the space, renovating the historic building and constructing fish tanks, 14 months before opening. Since opening, the restaurant has seen a lot of success, and the restaurant’s aquaponic and vertical farm system are running swimmingly.
Five years ago Mark Rhine and his business partner Marlo Ibanez, co-owners of Rhibafarms, had a broadband company in Phoenix, Arizona. They fielded a $225,000 a month payroll, traveled constantly and ate junk food only as an afterthought. Then they cashed in their company, bought a farm – Rhibafarms – and saw their health turn 180 degrees.
“We both lost a ton of weight, lowered our blood pressure and cholesterol and stopped taking medication,” Rhine said. “All because we started eating the organic food we grow. So all we want to grow now is very nutrient-dense food.”
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.”
Traveling from farm to market has never been a shorter trip than it is for the produce grown by Green Sky Growers, a rooftop aquaponic farm, in Winter Gardens, Fla. The farm’s main client is a restaurateur housed in the same building. Delivering fresh produce is a mere one-minute commute in an elevator.
The unique aquaponic operation arose through the personal vision of Bert Roper, an aquaculture expert from Winter Gardens, Fla., whose ancestors settled the area more than a century ago. Although Roper passed away in late 2012, his legacy lives on. It’s visible in the lush, edible greenery that draws nutrients from a rooftop pond atop a multi-rise, 3,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
When Gina Cavaliero and Tonya Penick watched their contracting firm collapse, they had a personal and professional epiphany that would change the course of their lives and work. “It was just awful. We were laying off a lot of people. I was spending sleepless nights trying to find a recession-proof business,” says Cavaliero. In 2008, as their business was failing, the two business partners were introduced to aquaponics by Morning Star Fisherman, a non-profit organization with a mission to use aquaponics as a means to relieve world hunger. “We were amazed and enthralled by it,” she says.
At the same time, the healthy food movement was gaining more momentum, and the business partners were eager to jump on board. “It all culminated at the same time,” she explains.
A few years ago, Jeni and Doug Blackburn were looking for a new business venture to embark upon following Doug’s retirement. After perusing several different business ideas, Doug began researching greenhouses, hydroponics and aquaponics. Jeni explains that as the couple dug deeper into aquaponics, they realized that they had found their business.
“We really liked the idea. It’s a sustainable way of doing farming,” says Jeni, co-owner and farmer at Fresh Harvest Farm, in Richwood, Ohio. “We are re-circulating water, not adding chemicals, and the fish eating and breathing excrete ammonia, which is a natural chemical. The good bacteria creates wonderful nutrition for our plants naturally.”