Certified Naturally Grown – an Alternative to USDA National Organic

I drove slowly along the country road in mountainous Boonsboro, Maryland, looking for a large greenhouse facility, which is typically the marker of a commercial aquaponics farm, where fish and plants are grown together in a re-circulating water system. Instead, all I found was a small sign for “South Mountain MicroFARM” posted next to a gravel driveway in front of a modest home. I turned into the driveway, headed down the hill, and was met by a smiling Levi Sellers, operator of South Mountain MicroFARM. Levi led me farther down the hill, past their family’s Christmas tree farm, to the impressive new barn and greenhouse structure that houses their recently established aquaponics operation. Read More >

Why Tilapia? Species Selection at the Aquaponics Project

IMG_0853Tilapia is one of the most commonly raised fish species in aquaponics systems, but it is not universally desirable among consumers. Why is it that tilapia is such a common choice, and why are we raising them at the CLF Aquaponics Project?

  1. Tilapia are hardy. Really hardy. In the aquaculture industry they have a reputation for being very difficult to kill, especially compared to more finicky species such as trout. They can survive wider ranges in pH, temperature, and ammonia than many other fish species, and they quickly adapt to varying conditions. Read More >

Gone Fishin’: The Tilapia Harvest

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Tilapia demo at JHU, 2014.

I’ve grown vegetables for most of my adult life, and I have become accustomed to eating a lot of locally produced food, either resulting from my own farming endeavors or a trip to the local farmers market.  I feel fortunate to be able to easily source the majority of the vegetables on my plate from small-scale, local growers, or grow them myself. However, despite growing up in coastal communities, there have only been a handful of times in my life when the fish I ate came from a local source. Last Tuesday, I was provided with an opportunity to eat fish produced in Baltimore City when we harvested 20 pounds of tilapia from the CLF Aquaponics Project.

Working with Bon Appetit Management Company Read More >

International aquaculture course stresses natural systems thinking for fish farming

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 12th annual International Aquaponics and Tilapia Aquaculture Course in St. Croix at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). I was able to meet and learn from many wonderful people who traveled from about 21 U.S. states and 18 countries including Canada, Mexico, six Caribbean islands, Peru, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Singapore, and Saipan, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Course participants ranged from commercial and aspiring farmers to backyard hobbyists, non-profit and international development workers, aquaculture extension specialists, academics, entrepreneurs, and investors.

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Charlie Schultz, course instructor, harvesting basil

Throughout the week, the course instructors emphasized that integratedfarming systems, such as aquaponics, can be more environmentally sustainable, resilient and potentially more profitable than monoculture of either fish or plant species. Course lectures included tilapia biology, broodstock spawning, fry cultivation and growout, plant propagation and hydroponics, integrated pest management, system design, and commercial considerations. Field work followed in-class lectures for hands-on learning activities.

Aquaponics is essentially a method for boosting profits from aquaculture (i.e., fish farming) by capturing excess nutrients inherent in fish waste to raise plants as a secondary revenue crop. In this regard aquaponics borrows heavily from hydroponics — a method for raising plants in a soil-less, nutrient-rich water, but it differs in one key respect. Hydroponics is performed with microbiologically clean water where all inputs come from fertilizers, while in aquaponics “we keep our system dirty” says the course’s lead instructor and UVI professor, Dr. Jim Rakocy, repeating the mantra this leader in the aquaponics movement has developed during his 30 years of research. Read More >