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US (OK): Organic USDA certification for aquaponics incubator program
Eastern’s Agri-Business Incubator Program was launched in 2017 to provide training to producers interested in a career centered on aquaponics, an innovative method of growing all-natural produce and fish using a closed, re-circulating water system. Eastern partners with Symbiotic Aquaponic to offer the course instruction and training participants need to start their own aquaponic business.
Eastern Professor Dr. Kaben Smallwood, who is also co-owner and chief executive officer of Symbiotic Aquaponic, said organic certification is a great marketing differentiator for farmers in the commercial growing environment.
“Organic certification helps farmers communicate to customers that their produce was grown in a system that is healthy for both consumers and the environment,” Smallwood said. “Aquaponic farming is a small, but rapidly growing market and this organic certification provides a lot of economic validity to an operation because farmers are able to improve the price of their produce and get a much better financial return on the crops they’re growing.”
Eastern’s Agri-Business Incubator Program is the first of its kind in the state of Oklahoma and the only program in the nation that includes instruction on the processes and procedures in involved in earning organic certification.
“There are other colleges and universities that offer online aquaponic education, but there is no else in the nation that can also make you a ready-made organic aquaponic farmer,” Smallwood said. “Eastern’s goal with this incubator program is to provide all of the education necessary for farmers to develop an organic system plan and submit it to a third-party verifying agent that will approve the operation to be USDA-certified organic. This is applicable nationwide. Anyone from anywhere in the nation can participate in the program and we’ll make sure they get what they need to become organically certified.”
Eastern Professor Dr. Kaben Smallwood teaches an aquaponics certificate course in the college’s greenhouse.
The aquaponics incubator program includes 20 hours of online instruction, including introductions to aquaponics and business, an overview of the rules and regulations associated with aquaponics, financial viability of proposed operations, business formation assistance, discussion of potential financing options through government programs and financial institutions, as well as how to receive organic certification. Smallwood estimates the program can be completed in 90 days, but participants are encouraged to finish at their own pace.
Program participants are also encouraged to complete 20 hours of greenhouse time focused on learning aquaponic techniques and methods, including taking a crop from seed to harvest, marketing the crop, and incorporating the resulting information into a business plan. Smallwood said access to an aquaponic system is beneficial, but not required. Participants in the Wilburton area are provided with 100 square feet of grow space in Eastern’s state-of-the-art aquaponics greenhouse.
“Through aquaponics entrepreneurships, our goal is to create jobs, build the community, and conserve precious natural resources,” Smallwood said. “The incubator will help provide stability in a fledgling industry.”
Enrollment in the aquaponics incubator program is open and ongoing. Participants can enroll and begin at any time. The cost to participate is $999. For more information, visit eosc.edu/aquaponics or contact Smallwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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