I seldom work with water gardens and koi ponds anymore. There are a couple of favorite clients I enjoy helping, but I mostly work in other areas. I enjoyed my time in the water garden and koi pond industry — all the ingenuity and especially the people in the industry building and maintaining water features. You have unique talents and knowhow that are valuable.
Opportunities in Aquaponics are growing, so you may want to consider it as a hobby or as a business opportunity. The principles are similar to the pond industry.
By definition, aquaponics is the combination of recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics. We grow plants hydroponically (without soil) and deliver the nutrients in water to the roots. The roots are all feeder roots instead of structural roots, and the plants are about 25% more productive. Combining this with recirculating aquaculture (growing fish intensively and filtering the recycled water) provides an organic fertilizer for the plants in the hydroponic system. There are a lot of adaptations for this, including collecting and only using only the fish waste and growing it in a connected loop with the fish.
Why Should You Be Interested in Aquaponics?
At this point, I am sure you realize all the similarities between aquaponics and water gardening. Growing hydroponically (with or without fish) on a hobby level, has two key advantages: no weeding, and you don’t have to bend over to pick your lettuce!
As a water-gardening professional, you have special talents and skills that translate to this industry. First, the knowledge and ability to teach clients the science of water, biofiltration, water chemistry, PVC plumbing, gravity flow, leak repair, and fish and plant care. Secondly, water feature professionals are genuinely innovative, and this industry welcomes innovation.
There are opportunities to expand your business, feed people nutritious food, educate students and join a group of people in the fastest-growing sector of agriculture. Urban farming is growing fast. There is $75 million in federal grants available to nonprofits for implementing innovative technologies for urban farming. Grant recipients would need mentors to supply and help them build and operate an aquaponic system.
A Teaching Tool
Teachers use aquaponics to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and the teachers need reliable help in using these systems in the classroom. Additionally, the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H (head, heart, hands, health) school ag programs are interested as well.
This spring, I have spoken to 10 different classes of high-school and middle-school students who are wildly enthusiastic about this type of innovative farming. They can view it as entrepreneurs, since they can innovatively farm in a small space super efficiently. They see it as futuristic, since NASA is currently doing experiments in hydroponic food production.
The camaraderie in the Aquaponics Association is great. The membership is inexpensive ($60). The conferences are fun and informative. I attended my first conference in 2017 and have maintained business and personal relationships from that conference ever since. That trend has continued at every conference, even through the online versions. The next conference is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in fall 2023. The tours will include Santa Fe Community College, a leader in controlled environment agriculture, including aquaponics. Santa Fe Community College is completely solar powered. They grow algae for biofuels and dietary supplements, just to give you an idea of their forward thinking and innovation.
At the 2022 conference, I made friends with T.C., who operates Veterans Produce, a non-profit organization that does job training and food production with veterans. I met Mac in 2017, and he uses aquaponics for raising food in prisons. Cameron is at the University of the Virgin Islands doing research and raising lettuce and tilapia on a commercial-scale farm. I also have the opportunity to do business at the aquaponics conferences (in between making friends).
So, if you need a new area to explore or a new business opportunity, I suggest that you check out this emerging industry. It has a lot to offer, with a lot of similarities to the water garden industry that we all enjoy.