Urban Organics Aquaponics Doesn’t Use Raw Fish Poop as Fertilizer

Urban Organics Aquaponics Doesn’t Use Raw Fish Poop as Fertilizer


Alright! This is John Kohler with GrowingYourGreens.com
today we have another exciting episode for you and where in the world am I today? I’m
in St. Paul, Minnesota of all places in the whole world and why I’m here today is to
check out the building behind me and actually it’s a former site of Hamm’s Brewing Co.
and when I was in college the guys used to drink Hamm’s “The beer refreshing” because
it was one of the cheapest beers out there although I don’t think anybody liked it
too much but it got us drunk and it did the job. Nonetheless, years have passed and now they’re
no longer there they’ve vacated the little brewery here and it’s an empty six story
building and one of the things I’m into is basically reusing things, whether it’s
old buildings or whether it’s reusing old shoes and finding a new use to grow some strawberries
in and why I’m here today is because they’ve taken this building here and what they’re
doing is they’re aquaponically. So, that means they’re growing leafy greens and herbs
by using fish as the driving force, as a fertilizer, to make this food desert a food forest or
at least a fish and leafy green forest here. It’s sad that in this area that might be
a little bit depressed economic area they’re revitalizing it by bringing and creating jobs
both directly and indirectly through Urban Organics. The first aquaponic organic growing
operation that I’ve ever seen, so actually let’s get inside Urban Organics and show
you guys what they’ve got growing on. Alright, so now we’re inside Urban Organics
and this place is amazing, it’s like this warehouse building that they used to probably
brew beer in back in the day and as you can see they’ve got these industrial steel racks,
the same kind of racks you’d see in Costco and this is a really good use for the racks
for actually producing food instead of storing it. So, what we’re looking at here is this
huge racks and they’ve each got 3 levels, they could probably maybe fit a 4th one in,
and they’ve got six different beds in these racks here. That’s growing over 17,000 different
little baby plants so that the St. Paul, Minnesota area can eat some of the best, fresh greens
throughout the entire year including the winter time when it’s snowing outside. So, what
we’re going to do next is actually take a look at the system that drives this and
how they’re growing on this aquaponic system on a commercial scale. The first organic aquaponic
system that I’ve ever seen. So, now let’s talk about what is aquaponics.
As you guys can see they’ve got this little signage around, they had a grand opening kind
of tour thing. They don’t normally do tours so this is a behind the scenes tour for you
guys but hopefully in the future at some point they will be able to do tours and do a lot
of education especially for kids in the area and working with schools and have other people
be able to come here and see exactly what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
So, this sign says “the dirt on aquaponics”; what aquaponics is in its essence is basically growing the plants
or the food with the fish waste, but it’s a little more detailed than that, I’ll show
you their system that’s a world’s first system that’s not anywhere else. That’s
really dialing this into a commercial viable system to all the different variables that
could occur that could kind of mess you up. One of the things I like to think about in
this system is that this system is not prone to crop failure due to bad weather because
it’s all inside. This can literally be duplicated, anywhere in the world you can get an aquaponic
system to start growing not only the leafy greens which are rich in the antioxidants
and nutrients for you but even the fish that is rich in protein and actually farm fish,
in a controlled environment, that’s not going to have pesticides, herbicides or heavy
metal pollution that could happen if you get wild cod or fish found in nature these days. So, what we’re looking at now are the fish
tanks, this super huge gigantic fish tanks. And actually I like that they have little
circular cut outs that are clear on the outside of all these guys so you can see the fish
swimming around. Yes! The fish are real, what they’re doing here is they’re using the
tilapia here and basically the only input that they’re using for
the system is the fish food that’s right
here, it’s actually called the “Aqua Feed”. They’re feeding the tilapia, the tilapias
are swimming around happily, eating the food, pooping and peeing. And it’s their poop
and pee that is then converted into the food for the plants. Now, most aquaponic systems
that I’ve visited and seen in the past basically use the raw fish and pee water directly into
the beds and that works and a lot of systems I’ve seen use it but what they’re doing
here is a little bit different. They’re actually taking the raw manure or fertilizer
and they’re converting it before they send it to the plants; so this is totally ingenious. Alright, so what we’re looking at next is
actually the Fish Air Aquatic Ecosystem, this is a filter and filtration system. This is
a system that I haven’t seen on any other aquaponic system I’ve ever seen in the world.
This is a world’s first, this really makes the whole system run cleaner and more importantly,
more efficient. What we’re looking at here is the first stage where basically there’s
a drum filter that’s removing all the solids and then after all the solids are removed
all the waste water goes into this big tanks and let’s go ahead and talk about what’s
happening in this big tanks because that’s actually probably one of the most important
parts and aspects of this system that makes it totally new, unique and different than
anything else I’ve seen. Alright, so what we’re looking at now is
the second part of that filtration system. Now, what happens is… you know, I had a
fish tank when I was a kid and you have to have a filter on your fish tank otherwise
the water would get gross and all this kind of stuff and it wouldn’t be good for the
fish. That’s what they’re doing here they pretty much have a filtration system that
is taking out the ammonia out of the water and then converting it to nitrite and they’re
doing that with the bacteria. Once they’ve got the nitrite they use another bacteria
to convert that into nitrate which then is the nutrients the plant can absorb, so this
is totally ingenious. Most of the time in aquaponic systems that I’ve seen they just
run the dirty water through the whole system and the bacteria is living in the root zone
and all over that’s converting this but I like it here because it’s much cleaner
and neater to happen; it happens in all these enclosed tanks and only the fertilizer water
literally is then being fed to all the plants in front of me. So let’s go ahead and take
a look at those beautiful plants next. So, besides the fish another important aspect
of Urban Organics are of course the plants or the vegetables that they’re growing and
this is where it all starts. They’ve got little cells here with a nurtured soil medium
where they put the seeds in and once again this is also being grown on the aquaponic
system on little rafts that are floating and they just seed them in there and soon enough
when these get a little larger they’re going to transplant them up into the larger rafts.
We’re on the bottom story of a 4 story that’s above me that that is growing lots of greens.
So let’s go ahead and take a look at some of those greens growing, next. So, one of the things you will not find here
at Urban Organics is any dirt. They’re not growing in any dirt so there’s no chance
of contamination or things that can happen when growing in dirt and what they’re doing
is using a nurtured sterile growing medium and I want to show you guys this. I mean,
this is how healthy this root zone is underneath this kale. They’ve got the water flowing
down here super fast, which provides the aeration, and once again all the nutrients that they’ve
basically pre-made by pre-filtering the water and providing it to the plants. You can see
the massive root zone, this would be a cool artistic picture to take pictures of these
root zones underneath here and it’s the roots that are really feeding the plants and
once again it’s amazing they’re doing this without any dirt. Once again, this is
saving more water and only uses 2% of the water that a standard farm would. It’s always sunny in Philadelphia, no wait,
that’s something else. Anyways, it’s always sunny in Urban Organics here because they
don’t happen to rely on the sun to grow their crops. They’re using energy efficient
fluorescent tubing that are the right spectrum to provide plants all the light they need
to easily do the vegetative growth and that’s what they’re after. They just wanted it
to veg out and produce as much leave matter as they possibly can to feed people in the
local area. So it’s really funny here me just walking through the facility to see they
have this big fluorescent lights that pretty much look like a shop’s lights but these
are special lights over each of these growth beds and in certain growth beds you can see
right underneath the light the plants are flowering up and they’re a lot larger than
some on the other areas. So, light really does make a difference and they’re doing
this in an energy efficient manner to produce the most amount of food year round independent
of the weather. Especially with the climate change, or whatever you want to call it, weather
is being crazy and regular farmers can have crop failures but by using a system like this
they’re going to be guaranteed steady production all year long. Alright, so another secret to how the system
works here is the aeration of the plants they’re growing. They have water moving through the
fish tanks at 200 gallons a minute and through these beds here that are really long it’s
running through at 90 gallons a minute, that’s a lot of water. Now, with the water comes
the nutrition but also comes something very important for you, I and the plants, it’s
air. We need air, the plants need the oxygen to breathe and the aeration causes some rapid
plant growth but also helps keep this whole system clean and sludge free. While we are
on the subject of water let’s talk about how much water the system uses. You know,
standard agriculture can take a lot of water because they’re watering the crops, the
crops absorb some of the water but most of the water escapes down into the ground. This
is good because they’re maybe filling aquifers and all this kind of stuff and building the
water table but the fact of the matter is clear that most water used in conventional
farming and even organic farming is wasted. Especially in conventional farming where water
is not sticking around in the soil because there is not a lot of organic matter to hold
on to it and keep it in the soil. That’s why in your garden at home I always encourage
you guys to add a lot of different organic matters and just compost in your garden. You
know I also like to use coconut coir and peat moss that’s going to help retain some of
the moisture so that it doesn’t run all away but thankfully in an aquaponic system
like they’re using here it uses just 2% of the water from traditional farming and
water is a very precious resource. You guys can turn on your tap and we take water for
granted but in many places they’re in drought conditions now and as time goes on and the
future goes on water is going to become scarcer and scarcer and it’s this kind of aquaponics
farming, that uses less water, that can be a valuable asset in the future. So, what we’re looking at now it their harvest
cooler and this is actually a fairly small cooler for this big giant urban farm that’s
in this warehouse and that’s because they get the produce out, harvest it, and then
it goes right out to the stores, it’s not sitting around in a truck being shipped 2000
miles across the country to here in the area. They decided on a business model where they’re
going to keep all the food local, all the food here is going to be only sold within
50 miles and most of it within 10 miles because there’s such a population density that could
totally eat all these greens. In this way people are going to get a higher quality food
that is going to taste fresher. I don’t know about you but when I’ve tasted kale
from the store it tastes bad, but locally grown fresh picked kale, whether it’s at
your garden or here is going to taste a lot better, the flavor is going to be better and
also one of the things that many people don’t realize is that the nutrition is also going
to be higher the fresher the produce is from the time you get it picked the more nutrition
it can have. Within just 24 hours of harvest up to 50% of certain nutrients can be lost
in foods and if all people are eating is food shipped in that’s not the best you can do.
I always want to encourage you guys to do the best you can do. Whether that means growing
your own or supporting a local farm like Urban Organics. Alright, so what we’re looking at here are
all the amazing leafy greens that they’re growing, we’ve got kale on this side, more
different kale and they’ve got two different kinds of kale growing as well as Swiss chards
and now you can see the racks are tall and tall. They have so many leafy greens growing
on here. I’ve definitely had a fun here at Urban Organics, I want to encourage you
guys if you live in the area support them by purchasing the leafy greens they’re growing
here and be sure to stay tuned and check out their website UrbanOrganics.com for any updated.
Hopefully one of these days they’re going to work with other farmers in other areas
so if you want to start growing aquaponically like they’re doing here they’re going
to license or make this available to other people so that you can duplicate this in every
city in the nation. This is something I definitely think is really important and that every place,
every city in the nation should have Urban Organics to help get organic products and
fish out to people so that they can start eating healthier today instead of all the
processed and packaged foods that are being shipped in from all over the world. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this episode. Once
again, my name is John Kohler with GrowingYourGreens.com we’ll see you next time and remember: Keep
on growing!

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