Every year, aquaponic tours are a highlight of the Aquaponics Association Conference. This year’s Putting Up Shoots Conference in Hartford, CT included tours of three very different aquaponic systems: one hobby-homestead system growing into a commercial-scale farm, one community center with sustainability at the core, and one repurposed warehouse building with visions of creating the City that Feeds Itself.
by Tawnya Sawyer
Bigelow Brook Farm located at Rob Torcellini’s homestead has been a virtual community model for years. By sharing stories of construction, planting, harvesting, fish health, and many successes and failures, Rob has empowered people all over the planet with his aquaponic system. For years across the world wide web, we have grown with Rob in his geodesic dome. We have learned to install a window kit into a fish tank (scary at first to cut a big hole in a tank, but not really that difficult once you know the steps.) We have learned the do’s and don’ts of heating, and lots of other key steps in operating aquaponics. At the tour, Rob had the opportunity to showcase his new greenhouse nearing completion. He described the components of his filtration system, RaftMaster deep water culture structure, cool wireless sensor systems, and Growgrips. Rob plans to be a key part of the local food system, delivering food and offering tours and education within the surrounding community. We look forward to many more of Rob’s videos and seeing his new commercial greenhouse up and growing.
Keney Park Sustainability Project on Saturday was a great representation of blending soil gardening and indoor greenhouse aquaponic growing, with so much more. This project really took “community” to the next level with its urban park land and environmental stewardship, children and family programs, job skills training, nutrition, health and wellness, farm stands and a mobile market. Herb Virgo who led the tours and leads the charge in the program, really shined the light on the importance and value of community programs like this. The greenhouses were home to goldfish and koi, while they were growing a variety of leafy greens in towers, NFT (nutrient film technique), and media beds. The abundance continued outdoors where there were raised gardens, mushroom production, bees, and lots of open space for community education and engagement. Keney Park is a wonderful inspiration to many who see the vision of urban farming and community engagement in their home town.
Trifecta EcoSystems was the final tour. Located in an older repurposed warehouse building, this aquaponic system highlights indoor crop production rivaling an outdoor commercial farm. As their mission states, “With aquaponics, we’re empowering communities to grow their own food while inspiring future generations to play an active role in our world’s food system.” The Trifecta team lives this community model working to revitalize the area and promote “The City that Feeds Itself”. Trifecta uses deep water culture to produce a variety of cooking and salad greens, which are delivered to local restaurants, and farmers markets. They also provide educational programs and innovate through research and development. While indoor growing has seen its share of challenges, Trifecta is blazing the trail for growing food in an otherwise barren warehouse space. We need more models like Trifecta’s for local food production.