Author: Candace King
On Friday April 10, 2014 I attended an aquaponics workshop in Frankfort, Kentucky. The conference lasted through Saturday the 11th,, but the applicable knowledge that I attained will last a lifetime. The workshop was hosted by Kentucky State University in conjunction with the Ohio State University “Aquaculture Boot Camp” 12 month course. The workshop actually took on a tone of an educational boot camp of sorts, with plenty of intensive information that was specifically geared at folks who are trying to get into aquaponics for hobby, business, and research.
To kick off the workshop Dr. Jim Tidwell (KSU) and Dr. Laura Till (OSU) gave everyone a warm welcome, and FOOD! Thus, things were off to a great start. The visiting scientist Dr. Charlie Shultz, who is a highly exalted aquaponics expert, and one of the few people in his field, took over the show from there and away we went to basic training.
Dr. Jim Tidwell of KSU Aquaculture
The vast wealth of knowledge that was laid out on the first day was a lot to absorb, but that’s kind of the way of aquaponics; there is always a lot to absorb, or a lot being absorbed, or things you don’t want to be absorbed. Charlie Shultz and crew went over all of those categories plus some throughout the 7 hours of aquaponics that followed. From the very basic principles of raising fish and growing plants, to the nuances of operating a balanced system, the economics of aquaponics for business, and the regulatory process for individuals wishing to be certified to sell their harvest.
As an Economics major, I was definitely holding a bias on this, but I think my favorite part of the first day of boot camp was hour long lecture by KSU’s Dr. Sid Dasgupta, on “Business aspects and Record Keeping” for small scale agriculture. He and his team of agriculture economists have devised a user-friendly excel data sheet is available for download on his biography page at this link:
Other Highlights from the first day were:
- Aquaponics design: A lecture about what and how to build in order to support your needs;
- The basic principles, chemistry and some nuances of raising fish, and plants in and out of an aquaponics system;
- The importance and methods behind maintaining good water quality;
- Harvesting, storing and marketing goods according to USDA standards;
- GAP and HACCP- Good Agricultural Practices and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point methods of safe food production;
- How to become certified as an organic grower;
- How to get a grant to grow organics, even for aquaponics; and
- A lovely social where the people attending the workshop got to know each other and do quite a bit of networking.
A KSU scientist retrieving a dead paddlefish from the aquaculture facility.
For day two of the workshop, the attendees were informed that we should wear something that were okay with getting dirty because it was going to be hands on! My favorite quote from the day came from Charlie Shultz, who said “Hyroponics is clean, sanitary in fact, aquaponics is anything but that;” he wasn’t lying either. The first half of the day was spent inside of KSU’s million dollar aquaponics research facility, where the experts along with a few KSU grad students showed us the ropes of what it means to raise plants and fish in a closed loop system, indoors. There were several experiments in operation, the goal of which is to combine the results to derive best practices for aquaponics under different conditions. For the sake of the workshop, the facility was a living example of what the attendees hope to get into on some scale.
Dr. Laura Till catching some fish for the sexing demonstration.
KSU Grad student, Luke Oliver, talking about how to grow plants in an aquaponics system.
Dr. Charles Schultz talking about water chemistry
After all of the intensive learning workshops of the previous day and a half, the second half of day two was a great treat for the attendees, as we all gathered our druthers (which I’m sure we lost somewhere between the immense amount of information and sexing fish by hand) and drove to Lexington, where we enjoyed a tour of the AWESOME Food Chain facility. Food Chain is a 501C3 (non-profit) facility, that was launched in May of 2012, as a project of individuals who were interested in “closing the loop” between food and commerce, by bringing food production within feet of the consumers. They have been pretty successful at doing so, in cooperation with Lexington’s West Sixth Brewery and a new restaurant Smithtown Seafood, all located in the same building, a former bread factory, right in the heart of downtown Lexington, KY. Smithtown sources their Tilapia and fresh greens from Food Chain, and Food Chain sources the grain for their feed from the brewery (beginning in 2014). If one has time while in Lexington, they should visit this facility for two reasons:
- Food Chain has a great model: the people who work there are inspirational and innovative, and they need support from everywhere, so pay $10 for the tour, and you will be performing a good deed as well as learning a great deal.
- It’s efficient! If you are hungry, have a hankering for a nice local beer, and you want to live more sustainably, just being a purveyor of this one building in Lexington, KY is one way to boost your level of sustainability; plus it’s neat!
Please excuse all of the exclamation points, but they are warranted. Aquaponics is fairly new, and it’s definitely exciting. The workshop in Frankfort was much more exciting than I expected it to be, and it was certainly informative. I would recommend KSU’s aquaponics workshop to anyone interested in getting into aquaponics and OSU’s aquaculture boot camp to anyone interested in doing it on a commercial scale.
If you are interested in finding out more information about future Aquaponics events like this one you should check out this link: http://aquaponics.com
Also, if you reside in or around Ohio, you can join next the OSU Aquacuture Boot Camp by following this link: http://southcenters.osu.edu/aquaculture/aquaculture-extension/boot-camp.