US (WI): Aquaponics provides stability, livelihood for Sheboygan farmers

Sixth generation farmer, Nate Calkins, used to work with cattle but now he spends his days handling a new ‘stock’ as co-owner of Lake Orchard Farm Aquaponics.

In 2014, after consulting with Nelson and Pade, Inc., the family started moving out heifers to make way for the transition to raising fish and produce.

“Aquaponics attracted me because of its stability and sustainability,” said Calkins.

Nate and his wife, Mary, started the aquaponics business after deciding they didn’t want to try and compete in an oversupplied dairy market. Mary’s parents had been raising replacement heifers on the farm.

The fish are manually-fed six times a day. While feeding keeps a demanding schedule, the price tag associated is minimal. Feeding the fish costs about $700 per month.

The Calkins harvest about 25 pounds of fish fillets each week, which is sold mostly retail after it’s processed at a local meat market.

Many chefs are attracted to the consistent quality in the produce and intense flavor, making them repeat customers.

“Chefs really love our micro-greens because they are so flavorful,” said Calkins. “One chef told me he can use much less of our parsley than he normally does because of the taste.”

The Calkins chose not to pursue organic certification, but instead take pride in an all-natural label.

“When we started, aquaponics couldn’t be recognized as organic,” said Calkins. “Even though that has changed, we have good products and don’t feel we need the organic label to sell our products.”

Read more at the Wisconsin State Farmer (Amy Eckelberg)

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