Saturday, September 17, 2011

Urban Aquaponic Farms - NEW Green Jobs

Will Aquaponics and Urban Farms Yield a Green Job Harvest?

By Charles Redell

Published September 16, 2011

"In addition to Green jobs, The Family Fish Farms Network will generate revenue back to the communities and neighborhoods where it is so desperately needed." - FFF

In the wake of President Obama's jobs speech last week, the national conversation is intently focused on growing jobs -- and particularly green jobs -- in the weak economy.

This week, we saw a new twist on green jobs, and one that promises something of a Holy Grail of sustainability: Creating jobs to grow sustainable food products at an economically viable scale that will be consumed in the local foodshed.

That's the pitch from the Recirculating Farms Coalition (RFC), which launched earlier this week. The group says the type of farms and farming it promotes can achieve those goals and more, including urban job creation.

The coalition is promoting sustainable, closed-loop farms that grow local, fresh food and, it says, create green jobs using clean, recycled water in place of soil. The farms can produce plants, fish, or a combination of both -- a method called aquaponics. In its first year, the group aims to increase public awareness of recirculating farms and their benefits, help develop better technology and approaches for the 30-year old practice and work with policy makers to make it easier for new farms to start operations.

Recirculating farms reuse as much as 99 percent of their own water and recycle organic waste from fish into nutrients for other crops. They are endlessly customizable so can be placed in just about any underused, or otherwise unwanted urban environment, according to the Coalition's executive director Marianne Cufone.

"These farms are scalable," she said, speaking after touring one covering just 1/20th of an acre located behind a strip mall in Orlando, Fla. "I've seen some the size of a desktop growing herbs and goldfish and I've seen ones covering acres and acres."

rooftop farm

Bail and mint growing in towers on the rooftop of Bell Book and Candle restaurant in the West Village (Manhattan), New York.

The crops grown on recirculating farms can vary widely. On the small Florida farm she'd just seen, Cufone said lettuce and herbs were being grown alongside Tillapia. Other farms grow produce like tomatoes and eggplants and a variety of higher-end fish stocks. Bail and mint growing in towers on the rooftop of Bell Book and Candle restaurant in the West Village (Manhattan), New York.

Urban farms are taking off across the country. Will Allen, whose Growing Power farm is a model of green urban farming discussed the "good food revolution" on GreenBiz.com in 2009, and Leanne Tobias profiled the rise of urban farming this summer.

One of the biggest hurdles for commercial recirculating farms is permitting. Some jurisdictions view them as labs while others view them as traditional agriculture operations, Cufone says. Neither one fits the bill, so RFC is working to change permitting and to develop a checklist for potential operations to help smooth the permitting and inspection process.

On the federal level, RFC aims to convince elected representatives and government agencies [PDF] that recirculating farms are economically better, safer environmentally and healthier than ocean-based aquaculture.

From a sustainability perspective as well as an economic perspective, advocates of recirculating farms have some strong numbers to back them up.

While Cufone wasn't able to give me an ROI on an aquaponics system, the manufacturer of a home-based aquaponics kit conducted a study [PDF] that found they can pay for themselves in 2.5 years. And taking the raw production numbers from one well established farm, commercial-sized farm shows what kinds of returns might be possible.

The farm, which has been operating at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) for the last 20 years, costs $40,000 annually to operate its four fish tanks and six 100-foot vegetable beds. It produces 1,400 cases of leaf lettuce and 11,000 pounds of fish annually. Just using back-of-the-envelope calculations based on food prices at Safeway.com, that's at least $99,000 in retail value of fish (if it's tilapia) and almost $73,000 in lettuce (if it's romaine lettuce, at 18 heads per case).

Financially, a farm like this earns its keep, and environmentally, the story is much the same. The UVI aquaponics farm produces all that food while using just shy of 19,000 gallons of water. One head of lettuce produced there requires about 7.5 gallons of water. On a traditional farm, it would need just shy of 16 gallons to grow, according to RFC.

The job-creation potential of recirculating farms, which RFC is promoting, is a bit muddier. The idea is to "go back to where we once were," Cufone said. "We used to farm and grow food for ourselves and maybe for our neighbors who were good at other things. We're moving back to creating our own jobs."

Photos courtesy of the Recirculating Farms Coaltion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Coalition Will Give us a National and Global Voice

This is a new organization designed to support the aquaponics and hydroponics urban farming and local food movement.  We should all support Marianne Cufone in this wonderful and supportive effort to bring awareness and credibility to our New Green Industry and the local food movement.  Local food is fresh, full of heathy nutrition lost in long transport times, and free of harmful additives... this is the Future of Food!

New Orleans, LA - Today, a new organization, the Recirculating Farms Coalition, is officially launching a national campaign to promote growing local, fresh food and create green jobs. Its focus is on eco-friendly farms that use clean, recycled water in place of soil to grow plants (hydroponics), fish (aquaculture), or a combination of both plants and fish (aquaponics). The new collaborative brings together educators, farmers, chefs, non-profit organizations and many others who are working to create an accessible, sustainable and healthy food system in the United States.  This is their official press release announcement
Marianne Cufone, Executive Director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, said, "The current U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, and about one in six people are struggling to buy food. Building recirculating farms in diverse communities nationwide can provide fresh, local food and create stable jobs in a sustainable business, two things the U.S. very much needs right now."
Recirculating farms use innovative ways to be space, energy, and water efficient. They can be as small as a desktop for personal use, or large enough for commercial operation. Well-designed farms re-use up to 99% of their water, and recycle waste. They can run without antibiotics, or other drugs and chemicals, and use renewable energy. Recirculating farms can grow fish, vegetables, flowers, fruits, herbs and more.
"I have been developing and using water reuse, recirculating systems for almost 15 years to produce food responsibly in urban settings." said Dr. Martin Schreibman, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology at CUNY's Brooklyn College and the founder and Director Emeritus of their Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center. "People are just recognizing the many incredible advantages of these systems as a novel method of farming. Now, we are joining together with others - farmers, chefs, fishermen and a new wave of aware students - in this coalition to highlight the benefits of using clean recycled water, without soil, to grow food locally, virtually anywhere, year-round. This is very significant."
The Recirculating Farms Coalition was created to be a hub for farmers, policy and law makers and consumers; a way to make connections, learn and join together in supporting recirculating farms. The organization also plans to provide training for farmers, build a model farm for teaching and demonstration and actively engage the public on recirculating farming issues.
Cufone explained, "The United States is in one of its worst economic situations ever. We need change, now. Building recirculating farms will help address the food and job crises by empowering communities to create new jobs growing their own food, in a way that is healthy for both us and our planet.
 The Recirculating Farms Coalition is a collaborative group of farmers, educators, non-profit organizations and many others committed to building local sources of healthy, accessible food. Through research, education and advocacy, we work together to support the development of energy efficient farms that use clean recycled water to grow food. We believe that these recirculating farms can create stable green jobs and supply sustainably-grown plants, fruits, vegetables, and humanely-raised seafood in diverse communities nationwide, and someday, worldwide. See: http://www.recirculatingfarms.org The Recirculating Farms Coalition is headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What is," The Family Fish Farms Network."

... and what are they trying to accomplish?

We plan to create a national network of small,  highly productive and profitable aquaponics urban farms that produce both high quality seafood based protein (fish, bivalves, and crustaceans) in a small physical footprint.  Food will be grown in the same community where it is consumed.  Each of these urban farms will be interconnected through the  Internet.  They will be owned and operated by a worker/owner team that will be well trained and supported by a centralized administration that provides quality standards, training and national branding and marketing team.  This will be a sustainable, profit making social business with the following goals:

  1. Run as sustainable, profitable, and just business
  2. Eliminate farm source pollution
  3. Save fresh water
  4. Cut the carbon cost of food
  5. Create NEW Green jobs
The Family Fish Farms Network will be a network of discrete urban farms each producing one of more varieties of seafood and vegetables that are organic quality and fresh from harvest to the table.  This preserves the perishable enzymes and trace minerals often lost in packaging and through chemical and mechanical processing.   Approximately 25 Million Americans do not have access to fresh food!  We are an idea whose time has come and we intend to change the way food is produced and distributed.   We are the future of food.  Watch us ... we're on our way!