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Aquaplanet introduces fish to Oregon horticulture programs local food in greenhouses gets a boost

Some greenhouses in the Willamette Valley are growing local food using fish. Chemeketa Community College in Salem may be the first horticulture program in the world to bring on board aquaponics. The school is one of two local community colleges that have contracted with design firm Aquaplanet to develop the program, based on student demand and an interest in the wider greenhouse industry to expand into organic food production. AquaPlanet promotes an alternative and cost-effective method originally developed at North Carolina State University in the late 1980’s, and which was field-tested in a USDA-sponsored 10,000 square foot greenhouse.

Aquaponics has been advancing around the world in various forms in the past few years, especially in the Midwest, where large ventures have been established in warehouses to grow mainly lettuce under grow lights, along with fish such as perch or tilapia. Urban farming investors are attracted to the method for its superior organic yields over hydroponics, even while it delivers a bumper crop of fish to the market. Although the projects in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul show an expansion of aquaponics, they are based on an equipment-intensive “raft” method with higher costs to build and operate.

By contrast, the NC State model, known as “flood and drain”, was designed to be simple, cost-effective and scalable. It is favoured by backyard enthusiasts around the world, though few realize it was originally designed for large greenhouse developments. Aquaplanet collaborated with the inventor, Dr. Mark McMurtry, for two years and has been building an extensive support network of science and technology specialists since 2009. The firm is promoting a scalable greenhouse package, called Next-Level™ Greenhouse, that includes horticulture staff to train local end users for six months, as well as LED grow lights and super-efficient heating systems.

Aquaplanet is collaborating with various firms and organizations to take next steps. One new partner is Adaptive Plastics, a Salem manufacturer of an innovative translucent greenhouse covering called Solexx. “The Next-Level™ Greenhouse will help bring horticulture into the world of local food. Most horticulture today is about ornamental plants,” said Sales Manager Laurie Stribling.

“What’s been lacking in aquaponics are farmers, or horticulturists,” said Bevan Suits, Aquaplanet’s founder. “The fish produce nitrogen to nourish the plants in a controlled-environment greenhouse. You need greenhouse professionals to manage the business of plants, to deal with pests organically and all the varieties of crops you can grow. That’s why we call it horticulture with fish.” The firm is collaborating with Johnson Controls and the University of Akron in Ohio to develop a system of sensors and a mobile app to monitor the space.

Besides food production, Aquaplanet promotes aquaponics to teach science. A number of STEM (Science Engineering Technology Math) programs around the country are adopting aquaponics because of the interest that live fish bring to a classroom, besides its value as a farm-to-table technology.

For more information
Aquaplanet LLC
Bevan Suits
T: +1 404 421 1894
Email: [email protected]

Solexx/Adaptive Plastics Inc
Laurie Stribling
T: +1 503 400 6375
Email: [email protected]

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