Going Vertical with Evan Bromfield

By Evan Bromfield
Look, I’m not interested in hopping on the vertical farming hype train. I’m interested in farming effectively and cheaply. And I think I’ve found the winning recipe.

I run the proof of concept vertical hydroponics farm Rosemont Horticultural located right outside DC. We provide chefs who want to differentiate their menus with year-round, affordable, exquisite crops grown with no environmental waste.

The entire farm is designed with the idea of closed-loop production, something extremely familiar to regenerative and aquaponics farmers, but a concept that’s oddly missing from most vertical farms. So what we do, unlike most aquaponic and hydroponic systems, is compost literally everything besides the system-infrastructure (no net pots, no rockwool) for future re-use. You read that right. We’re using compost in our hydroponics system.

We start our seeds in fast-draining compost plugs and within a few weeks, transfer them to the full recirculating shallow water culture system. Introducing soil and choosing a shallow water culture (similar to a deep water culture system) over something like NFT means we have a much higher biological buffer. This means that as nutrients, pH, and other variables fluctuate in our system, our plants are better able to continue thriving.

While that’s just one example, the whole system is designed for simplicity, ease of use, minimizing failure points (mechanical timers versus digital, reducing moving parts, etc.), and resilience. This reduces our labor costs, and because we are re-circulating our inputs, production costs are lowered too. This lets us focus on our primary directive: selling food effectively.

Remember, we’re just testing this out. We started with a run-down garage and transformed that into a farm that’s sold out to local restaurants and distributors since we started. It’s been great and I can’t wait to scale.

Evan Bromfield has been involved with vertical farming for 3 years with experiences in the industry ranging from private consulting to publicly funded urban agricultural development. In addition to his own vertical hydroponics farm, he also runs the Urban Vertical Farming Project, one of the few dedicated websites covering vertical farming, to teach others about the industry. Recently, he worked with the global Association for Vertical Farming to examine international biopharmaceutical production to help write and publish the most comprehensive industry white paper to-date, “The State of Vertical Farming.” Sign up for his free email list to learn more.

The Soil Food Web in Aquaponics

AQP Association Fact Sheet – The Soil Food Web

This document explains how aquaponic systems utilize the Soil Food Web to produce healthy crops – despite the lack of soil.

Our food system is rapidly changing due to the convergence of pressing global issues including climate change; environmental degradation; water depletion; economic insecurity; health problems due to poor diets and pollution; and rapid population growth and urbanization.

As we shape our new food system, one critical consideration is whether we retain access to high quality fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those grown sustainably.

This document shows that aquaponics can deliver fresh fruits and vegetables grown from seed, with the same symbiotic biological processes used by plants since the dawn of time. Check it out!

http://aquaponicsassociation.org/s/AQP-Association-Fact-Sheet-The-Soil-Food-Web.pdf

Rooting DC Conference

Here are some Cultivate the City rascals, with whom we shared a table at the 2017 Rooting DC Conference last Saturday.

Rooting DC is an annual forum for urban ag folks looking to make DC’s food system healthier. Click to see Rooting DC’s great map of the DC Food System… Hey, we gotta put some aquaponic systems on that map!

Anacostia Aquaponics gave a short “intro to aquaponics” presentation. We also ran into a lot of old friends, and made some new ones. It’s likely that Rooting DC pollinated even more urban agriculture collaborations, stay tuned!   🙂

Jimbo’s Backyard System in Northern Virginia

Jimbo's System

Check out Jimbo’s backyard aquaponic system in Northern Virginia.

Jimbo is pushing the limits of personal food production — his system can grow about six-hundred heads of lettuce at a time in his own backyard! He uses a 300 gallon IBC Tote as his fish tank, and two 20 x 4 grow troughs for his plants.

Our country relies on a wasteful and inefficient food system that contributes to pollution, resource depletion, income inequality, and poor health. Jimbo shows how we can use aquaponics and permaculture methods to produce more of our own food on our own terms!

Visit the Tomahawk Permaculture website for more info.

 

 

Quantifying and Monetizing the Benefits of Aquaponics

Quantifying and Monetizing the Benefits of Aquaponics

You see, in our economic system we don’t account for the hidden costs of food production. Aquaponic producers have difficulty monetizing their benefits because industrial agriculture producers have an implicit subsidy to use as much water, carbon, pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics they want! Even a conservative economist should support public actions to force producers to internalize these costs of production so that others don’t have to pay later.

Click the link below to check out a PDF presentation by Anacostia Aquaponics Director Brian Filipowich on this topic. It was given at the Aquaponics Association conference in Austin, TX this past November.

Quantifying and Monetizing the Benefits of Aquaponics

The Washington Post Boosts Tilapia!

The Washington Post recently ran an article of interest to the aquaponic community: Tilapia Has a Terrible Reputation. Does it Deserve It? (Tamar Haspel. Washington Post. October 24, 2016.)

The Post found that tilapia has an unfair bad rap, and this should make us aquaponic folk angry! Because its costing us!

The article states: “Tilapia, in short, is an environmentally friendly, lean, low-calorie source of protein. We need all of those we can get.” And they did a taste test among some top Washington, DC food gurus; tilapia ranked 2nd of 6 among similar types of fish.

The commercial performance of tilapia is important to the success of the aquaponic industry. Tilapia is the most commonly used aquaponic fish because of its ability to withstand wide variances of ph, temperature, and water quality. And cuz its a quick efficient grower. In a 2015 survey, Commercial Aquaponics Production and Profitability, Findings from an International Survey (Love et al, 2015), researchers found that 69% of respondents used tilapia.

While tilapia is not as healthy or delicious as salmon, it is a lean source of healthy protein. Aquaponics offers us a way to grow this lean healthy protein locally, even in urban areas. This could have dramatically positive repercussions for our health, environment, and economy. But, perversely, these fish are more of an economic liability than an asset for most aquaponic operations, as found in a 2015 paper: Economics of Aquaponics (Engle, 2015).

Right now, tilapia is undervalued because of consumers’ misconceptions (which stem from poor-quality chinese tilapia imports). We need to show consumers that tilapia – when raised appropriately – is healthy and tasty. Then the price of tilapia will rise like the water in your media bed!

For some aquaponic operations, an increase in the price of tilapia will have a significant effect on their bottom line.

(And this does not even go into the fact that we don’t adequately charge for the costs of our food system to our environment and health. Is it REALLY cheaper to buy a tilapia raised in unhealthy conditions shipped from thousands of miles away in China?????!?!?!? We need to start building the hidden costs of our food system into our food prices. These costs include extreme water usage, carbon usage, pesticide usage, antibiotic usage, fertilizer usage, and nutrient runoff. Then the price of long-distance industrially-produced food would go up and we would be incentivized to buy local food… which would also benefit our economy!)

And see another good industry survey: An International Survey of Aquaponics Practitioners (Love et al, 2014)