Davis, who is partnering with three local elementary schools to host field farm days and school learning programs, says he’s ready to build a bigger greenhouse that can facilitate a more efficient grow space and educational tours. Kindergarten to Grade 12 school programs have generated a sustained interest in aquaponics in recent years as they provide educators with visual and hands-on activity-based projects that can stimulate students’ interest in STEM careers. (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“My whole thing is, I want to get [Black people and people of color] involved in agriculture. … In my opinion, natural resources are something that city dwellers take for granted. Insects are a natural resource, fish are a natural resource, the sun, plants, grass, soil. Without going back to agriculture, I don’t think we’ll ever get the economic stronghold we need, ”he said.
Aquaponics remains a developing field with few bona fide experts and targeted education programs. David Cline, extension professor at the Auburn School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, estimates that there are only a handful of people in the country who have both a university education. and, more importantly,, Significant practical experience of running a successful aquaponics business.
The university has four greenhouses that use hydroponics and aquaponics systems, and Cline said Auburn researchers are still studying the economic viability of the latter. The extension professor described four major factors that aquaponics producers must take into account: water, electricity, labor and food.
Davis and Fountain Heights Farm use water catchment systems to collect rainwater. As the water is recycled throughout the system, it must constantly circulate to remove fish waste and provide nutrients to the plants that clean the water. This means aquaponics producers need to have a constant power source and backup power, which can be costly.
In addition, the amount of plants that can be grown depends on the amount of food provided to the fish, another cost that quickly adds up. A standard of 50 lbs. bag of pellets often costs around $ 50, organic foods can be double, and small bags of higher quality produce can cost over $ 300 per bag.
Productivity can also be a double-edged sword. In a greenhouse of 30 by 96 which could contain three rows of plants, one row could produce around 1,700 heads of lettuce per month, Cline said, making it essential that growers know their markets. Does a grower have the labor to harvest and the market to sell that many heads of lettuce before the product starts to rot – and at a profitable cost?