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Aquaponics Farming Catching On

03.17.2015

AR 150319935
ECHO Global Farm tour guide Harold Flood shows the aquaponics garden at the Fort Myers farm. VANESSA CACERES/STAFF

 

Expect to hear more about aquaponics farms in the future.

First, let's clarify what the word "aquaponics" means, as you may confuse it (as I have before) with hydroponics or aquaculture.

Aquaponics refers to what's essentially a recirculating aquaculture system that involves the growth of both fish and plants, according to the Aquaponics Association, based in Annandale, Virginia.

"The fish waste feeds the growing plants using organic hydroponic techniques. The plants, in turn, clean and filter the water that returns to the fish environment," according to the association website.

Hydroponics is a way of growing plants with mineral solutions and water, but without soil.

And aquaculture—a big business in our state—is the growth of aquatic animals and aquatic plants for food.

So now with the technicalities out of the way, let's get back to aquaponics.

My interest in aquaponics was sparked during a visit to ECHO Global Farm earlier this month. The farm has an aquaponic demonstration area complete with large fish tanks with tilapia and the growth of not only various greens but also items like strawberries and tomatoes.

It occurred to me that I've gradually been hearing more about aquaponics.

Brookville's Green Acre Aquaponics sells produce at Tampa Bay Markets in the Tampa area. And our own Agri-Leader had a story not long ago about Growing Barefoot, an aquaponics operation in Sebring.

Aquaponics may seem like an underground (pardon the reverse pun) movement because it has been until recently, said Astrid Hartleb, co-founder of GreenView Aquaponics Family Farm & Apiary in Cape Coral.

"It's a relatively new industry in the United States but it's been around for about 50 years," said Hartleb, a vice chair for The Aquaponics Association. "There are a lot of aquaponics farms in Australia because of the water shortage there."

In fact, aquaponics farms use less than 10 percent of the water commonly used in traditional farming, Hartleb said.

Hartleb and her partner started GreenView in 2012, and she noted that many aquaponics operations have only recently opened. With the expanding growth, it's hard to target how many aquaponics operations there are, although Florida appears to be a leader in the United States, along with California.

A recent report pointed to 13 aquaponics operations in Florida, although Hartleb knows there are more.

Like GreenView, Aquaponic Lynx in Lake County's Yalaha, just opened in 2012, said founder Aleece Landis.

"We grow seasonally appropriate veggies with kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, and celery being some of our primary crops," she said. However, the farm also has grown or will grow this year a range of other items, including southern peas, beans, edible flowers, collards, mint, chives, roselle, and okra.

"And probably more that I can't remember right now," said Landis. That's all on less than an acre for the aquaponics part of her business—that shows you how diverse an aquaponics operation can be within a small space.

Aquaponics farms get some help from Florida's climate.

"Provided we grow climate-appropriate fish and seasonally-appropriate veggies, I don't need a greenhouse or heating or cooling," Landis said.

However, the climate does cause some pest issues that Landis said are hard to manage, as aquaponics operations cannot use traditional pesticides.

You can get a taste of aquaponics farms at a variety of markets, co-ops, or through tours.

Landis sells produce through the Orlando Home Grown Coop and at the Howey Market in Howey-in-the-Hills. She is also setting up a weekly basket delivery for local customers.

Hartleb and her partner sell through a buying club and through local markets, such as the Punta Gorda Farmer's Market.

You can get a tour of an aquaponics operation at places like Morningstar Fishermen, an international aquaponics research organization in Dade City.

Article cited from: http://goo.gl/2CmYfF