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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 28
February 17th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

Being a pioneer can be scary. I know I started last week's newsletter with that sentence, but this IS a new and different newsletter. We'll explore what "organic" really means, and its application to aquaponic food production.

When Susanne took us organic, we really were in new territory without any maps. There weren't any sea serpents here (as the old charts used to say), but organic aquaponics had several (pleasant) surprises in store for us.

We'll talk a lot more about what organic aquaponic systems actually consist of in this week's Nugget; but if you want to learn how to build and operate one instead of just read about it, we have trainings in Florida in March and Hawaii in April of 2011.

Our FIRST EVER mainland training is scheduled in Florida from March 21st to March 24th, 2011. The training will be held at the Community Center of Ridge Manor, 34240 Cortez Blvd, Ridge Manor, Florida. Susanne Friend and Tim Mann of Friendly Aquaponics will be teaching the course  with Friendly Aquaponics affiliates Tonya Penick and Gina Cavaliero, who own and operate Green Acre Organics, where the hands-on sessions will be held. These Florida affiliate trainings will be held at Green Acre Organics on a regular basis from now on. The conference room we've hired for the Florida training only holds 120 participants, so reservations for the course will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you're interested in commercial scale aquaponics, please take a look at both the Hawaii and Florida Commercial Aquaponics Trainings (Special Offer in right sidebar of this email), where you will learn more about real-life operation of a commercial aquaponics system than you can anywhere else in the world. For smaller home backyard and apartment systems, please read on:

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Purchase Construction Plans and Operating Information for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $49.95

Our Apartment/Condo System package includes new and easy-to-understand building instructions and complete operating information for 4 diifferent sizes of small aquaponic systems based on our years of experience operating a commercial aquaponics farm. Anyone can build a system out of plastic barrels, but operating one successfully without good and easily-understood information can be frustrating. You simply use the "Daily Operations Cheklist" in the manual and follow the step-by-step instructions on your way to success.

We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and built our first commercial aquaponics systems with FAR less information than this manual contains. We included all the information learned from that experience in this manual so you don't need to make any of the same mistakes we did.


Learn about our Apartment/Condo Systems!

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Aquaponics Nugget #28:
Organic Aquaponics Systems (Part 2 )


Organic Aquaponics Systems

We've heard the word organic for a long time now, first from the hippies and health food stores in the '70's, then it entered more popular usage with the increasing awareness of the connection between what we eat, how healthy we are, and how long we live. Organic foods are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the market, as more and more consumers decide to eat better quality and healthier food. But what IS organic, really?

You've probably heard someone say "It's organic, man", as if that explains everything. It turns out that "organic" has been defined by the USDA organic standards
since the early 2000's. These are a set of laws enacted by Congress which are administered by a network of private organic certification agencies who had to jump through serious hoops to become a certifier. In other words, there's nothing fuzzy or uncertain about whether something is organically produced or not. As far as a consumer is concerned; it is either produced by an organically certified farm, or it is uncertain, no matter what the farmer may declare.

To be certified organic is quite simple; you ONLY use materials and devices declared "approved by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute), and you do NOT use any materials or devices declared "not approved" by them. In practice, of course, it is much more involved than that.

When Susanne was preparing for our organic certification in 2008, she spent almost eight months and hundreds of hours of work in the process. This was because no one had ever done it before we started: WE had no idea how to satisfy the certifying agency, and the certifying agency, having a multi-million-dollar liability insurance policy on the line, had to be absolutely SURE what they were doing met all the guidelines. We were told by the local representative of our first certifier that they had meetings with all 35 of the company's employees attending just to discuss our certification!

Since then, seven of our students have gotten their commercial aquaponics systems USDA organically certified. We aren't aware (shameless plug) of any systems being certified organic by anyone except our students or clients. It's something we freely teach in our Commercial Aquaponics Trainings. But what "organic" means in relationship to aquaponics is far, far more than just a certification (as valuable as that may be to an individual farmer); it has more to do with chaos theory and understanding ecosystems than certification.

After we went organic, we saw changes in our systems (much of this has been covered in greater detail in previous newsletters), including the appearance of new species of organisms not reported before in conjunction with aquaponics systems. We were the first to successfully raise freshwater prawns in the troughs of our aquaponics systems. We saw our friendly little gammarus show up in our systems, then saw them eliminate the fish poop in the solids settling tank and the net tank, which got us out of the horrible job of cleaning our net tanks (more about this next week).

There's another interesting thing about organic aquaponics systems we might not have thought of if we hadn't had some WWOOFers come to our farm after previously working on other organic farms in the area. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, and you sign up on their website, then you get notified about opportunities to work on organic farms in various parts of the world. Young people use the WWOOF network to travel, learn how to farm organically, and find a place to stay. Anyway, one of the first things our woofers asked was "where is your poison closet?". We went "huh?".  We had no idea that the woofers had met many organic farmers who had a "poison closet" containing all kinds of non-organic pesticides, herbicides, etc, that they used when things got too out-of-hand for organic methods to control. These farmers cheated frequently enough to have a closet for such things.
Not only would we never consider such a thing, we COULDN'T!

Even if our integrity and ethics allowed this, we can't consider it because to do so could kill the fish, which we depend on to fertilize the plants in the system. Even such organically-approved treatments such as Neem oil, soap sprays, and pepper sprays will injure or kill our fish. In fact, there are only a couple of organically-approved treatments we CAN use because they're the only ones that are safe for the fish. In other words, the organic aquaponic farmer CAN'T cheat!  As aquaponic produce becomes more widely available and consumers become better-educated about this benefit, it will make aquaponic produce more trusted as to its organic nature than regular organic produce. 

In conclusion: organic aquaponics systems are stable, dynamic, complex and relatively self-balancing aquatic ecosystems in man-made containers (fish tanks, hydroponic troughs). Yes, they ARE maintained through the application of fish food, electricity for aeration and pumping, and the conscious attention of the operator to the system, just as conventional and organic soil-based farms need inputs and attention. But they are ecosystems, not just sterile containers filled with chemical nutrients out of bags and boxes as hydroponic systems are. Our knowledge of them is just in its infancy; we just got certified three years ago. There are currently only eight such systems on the planet that we're aware of. They produce healthy, organically certified food in a smaller space, on poor quality soil or no soil at all, with much lower water consumption and less labor than conventional farming. .

(Next week: "Organic Aquaponics Systems" Part 3, with information on the biological basis of organic aquaponic systems and why this is a good thing for the aquaponic farmer).

Click to see our new Video!
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Free Farm Tours
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Aquaponics tour at the Friendly farm!

We hold a free workshop on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month,  focused on growing food with aquaponics and permaculture. These workshops start with a one-hour free farm tour from 10-11 am, then the free workshop from 11-12. Sample topics include: "How to grow"; bananas, sweet potatoes, taro, green onions, tomatoes, and so on. Each workshop will cover a different vegetable and include a handout with instructions covering that vegetable for you to take home.

If you are a school, a non-profit organization, an organization working with Native Hawaiians or economically-disadvantaged persons, or a church, we will hold a free farm tour for you antyime. You DO need to email us first to schedule, or we might be out on errands!

 Click here for information. See you there!


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Taro grown in a 2" net pot (little bump at bottom)



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4-month old prawn (macrobrachium rosenbergii) grown in hydroponics troughs of our aquaponics systems


Special Offer! Sign up for our April 4-7th, 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our March 21-24th Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training now, and we will email you our Micro System package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

Sign up for Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training

Sign up for Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily

For some reason I don't really remember, I've always considered 17 to be my lucky number. . When I was much younger and thought about growing old, I always thought that I would end up living with 17 cats on a deserted island somewhere.

I feel the way Mark Twain did about luck; he's quoted as saying: "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation". People who are lucky aren't just "lucky", they often work their butts off first to be ready for their "luck", then are very perceptive and discerning in which opportunities to take, which also takes a lot of work.

So instead of living with my 17 cats on a deserted island, at 58 (is this old? I can't tell, I still feel like I'm twelve!) I'm living with from five to ten farm interns, my wife, four kids, mother-in-law, four horses, four dogs, and from twelve to thirty-five cats on our seven-acre farm.

That large a variation in cats needs a little explaining. No, we do not  follow the philosophy of those bumper stickers which say "So many cats, so few recipes!". Susanne had a great idea back when there was an economy in Hawaii, and that was to raise purebred Siamese cats. Back then, a litter of kittens would fetch $1,200-2,500, and selling them was how she paid for all the cat food, vet bills, and medicines that purebred
Siamese require.

In our current economy, everyone still loves Siamese, but we're lucky to find a good home for the kittens. We'll sometimes sell one for $100, and that's good because we know that person is a lot more likely to take care of and love that cat than one who got their cat for free.
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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2010

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Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727
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