Inspired by a story in the Wall Street Journal about sustainably growing Yellow Perch in an old Milwaukee grain factory, Mark Doherty was looking for a way to develop such a plan of his own. As a chef, graduated from Paul Smith’s college, Mark had a notably strong background in food and has always been committed to focusing on local and sustainable growing. His plans for Aquaponic Farming started taking shape about a year ago, save a few key components.
Heather Hawkins and the Aqua-Vita team
Mark’s fortuitous meeting with Scott, his former room mate at Paul Smith College, provided just the right connection and expertise. As an Environmental Engineer and Ornamental Fish Specialist, Scott brought some essential talents into the mix, bringing Mark’s dream of establishing a creative, sustainable aquaponic produce-seafood farm closer to reality. Prior to reconnecting, Scott was running a successful ornamental fish business out of his home, housing fish in 80 tanks, for a total of 1500 gallons. Originally coming on as a consultant, Scott officially took the job as Aquaculture Director last May, combining his talents with Autumn’s as Aqua-Vita’s Horticulture Director, for a wholly integrated system.
Everything about Aqua-Vita has been focused on sustainable growth, beginning with their location. Housed in the former Oneida Silver plant’s polishing factory warehouse, Mark and his crew opted for the arduous task of cleaning years of built up silver polish from the walls and floors before even beginning to lay the foundation for the fledgling business. While certainly more challenging than building something new, they felt the local factory reclamation project was not only worthy for the community, it was more consistent with their business values. Aqua-Vita’s fish tanks, soon to be filled with Blue Gill fry (babies), are also designed resourcefully as they are made from sections of old silos. Immediate plans include adding a drop ceiling for better energy conservation which will help provide proper warmth and lighting for the project.
Aqua-Vita Farms (under construction)
Heightened environmental concerns about phosphorous and nitrogen run off causing a yellow mid-summer algae bloom in Oneida Lake, reinforced their decision to reuse everything in their efficient ecosystem. Aqua-Vita’s aquaponic/seafood production methods are designed so there’s no waste or run-off of any sort – absolutely nothing enters into the water table because everything is recycled in an ecosystem that mimics nature. Other more traditional aquaponic systems may still contribute fertilizer waste by-products into the environment since artificial fertilizers often contain petro-chemicals. Aqua-Vita’s system is completely free of petro-chemicals, fossil fuels and they even source electricity from NYPA clean hydro-electric power from Niagara Falls. In every way, Aqua-Vita has been conscientiously built to have a very efficient self-sustaining system and minimal carbon footprint.
Generally the aquaponic-seafood system is designed to be relatively simple; two tanks feeding into one system filtering waste water from the fish tanks. Waste water flows through pipes to filters which remove solids, then to a series of aerated biological filters. In the process, the ammonia laced waste water (effluent) from the fish tanks is transformed by natural bacteria which feed on the ammonia, transforming it into a nitrate-rich “nutrified,” water which the hydroponic plants thrive on.
Designed to be the heart of the aquaponic food system, large frameworks (100 feet long and 4 feet wide) traverse the warehouse providing 400 square feet of hydroponic growing space. Primarily focused on lettuce varieties, herbs and eventually tomatoes, Mark has additional space available to handle anticipated growth.
Nurtured from seed in a special germination chamber, Autumn’s 10-11 day old seedlings will be placed into the system. Gradually and gently floating towards the end packing station in nutrified water on specially designed rafts over a period of 28 days, the seedlings develop along the way into fully ORGANIC natural, healthy, mature plants which are free of any contaminants, bacteria or unnatural chemicals.
Once the mature plants reach the end pre-processing room they are harvested and can be on our lunch and dinner tables in less than 24 hours-surprisingly quicker than most bagged lettuces shipped from the West Coast which typically are 2 weeks old before they even hit the grocery store shelves. Furthermore, to eliminate pathogens it’s a common practice to wash pre-packed bagged lettuces in a chlorine solution prior to packing and shipping-something that will never happen at Aqua-Vita!
One taste of these fresh, tender chlorine-free hydroponic lettuces which benefit our LOCAL economy will not only help to transform our food system, but also our tastebuds!
Hopefully, if all goes according to their plans
, Green Hills will be among the first
to have Aqua-Vita produce available mid-summer and seafood within 7-9 months. Learn more about this innovative new supplier and watch their growth by friending them on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aquavitafarms
On a side note, both Mark and Scott have roots in our area. Mark’s grandparents had a place on South Salina in the City until sometime around WW II when they moved to Nedrow, settling on Weymouth Road, and Scott makes the trip to the Sherrill, NY farm from his home in Jamesville.