Aquaponics facility turns out local produce
Mexico’s ancient Aztecs were the first civilization in the Americas to dabble in aquaponics, combining fish farming with vegetable production on artificial islands called chinampas in the swamps around their capital city of Tenochtitlan. Thousands of years later, and many miles to the north, father-son team Mark and Jake O’Farrell of Hungry Mother Organics are embarking on a vastly more modern version of such an endeavor, soon to be growing tilapia and vegetables at a new indoor aquaponics facility in Dayton in Lyon County.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (the cultivation of plants in water), and uses bacteria to help with water filtration. One benefit of such a system is environmental sustainability.
“We’re able to take the waste streams of both of those industries, and re-integrate them into our operation, creating kind of a zero-waste cycle,” Mark O’Farrell said.
In addition to tanks for fish and plant cultivation, Hungry Mother Organics’ new system will incorporate worms to help break down solid waste from fish, and will reuse water by recirculating it through the greenhouse. Operating indoors will allow them to control temperature, shade and humidity, enhancing water conservation capabilities.
Although most of the O’Farrells’ past farming work has focused on vegetables, they’ve been experimenting with fish cultivation for some time at another Hungry Mother property in Carson City. They started with koi. Then, about three years ago, they obtained permits to raise tilapia, developing designs for their aquaponics system as they went. Initial results were good.
“The commercial proof of concept was the greenhouse in Carson City,” Jake O’Farrell said. “We were able to successfully raise over 3,000 pounds of tilapia fish and 250,000 seedlings that were made available to the retail market.”
With support from investors, the O’Farrells have designed a facility specially suited to the conditions of their Dayton site. Construction on the new facility began last year, and will include underground sump tanks to hold water and above-ground tanks and troughs for raising tilapia and vegetables. It will be heated with biofuels grown on-site. A computer system monitors conditions in the greenhouse remotely and makes changes as needed via smartphone. The Hungry Mother team expects to begin soft production of produce by mid-July and be in full production by fall or early winter.
They plan to sell their crops—including tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, herbs, micro-greens and tilapia—through the Great Basin Food Co-op and Distributors of Regional and Organic Produce & Products (DROPP) program, providing a reliable source of year-round produce to local restaurants and other customers.
“Here in Nevada, the only time there’s local produce available to most people is when the farmers markets are going—like June through first week of September,” Mark O’Farrell said. “One of the things we want to do is have the bulk of our production be on the flip side of the calendar.”