Mind Your Business: Spotlight on The Farming Fish
Aquaponics is a fairly simple equation, at least in concept: A mash-up of raising fish and using that water for hydroponic-based vegetable growing. It is a process that The Farming Fish, a 40-acres farm located in the Evans Valley near Rogue River, say “emulate(s) the symbiosis of nature.” In doing so, the process reduces water waste from traditional irrigation system, and through the use of greenhouses, reduces energy use. All told, it is increasing sustainability for the process—and co-owner Olivia Hittner is more than happy to talk about the process—and the benefits from aquaponics. She bounds into our interview at Cottage Cafe excited to talk.
RVM: What’s going on at the farm today?
Olivia Hittner: The crew gets there every day at 7 am; in the summer they are they at 6 am. We harvest two days a week, and pack out for two deliveries per week, and all of the other days we are transplanting and doing maintenance work to prepare for harvest days.
RVM: So they get to sleep in a bit on those days?
OH: [A small laugh] No, they show up early everyday, but only two days are harvest days. In the summer, we like to start even earlier to take advantage of those cool morning hours.
RVM: What’s it like?
OH: The greenhouse operates summer, winter, fall, spring. So, we’re working through all the weather conditions in the Rogue Valley. We have an indoor space where we do our harvesting and packing in, so our produce is taken care of. A portion of it is kept at forty degrees for putting product into after it’s packed out. And the rest of it we keep between sixty and seventy degrees. We call it a post-harvest handling area.
RVM: I’ve heard a bit about aquaponics.
OH: Where I’m really excited is seeing it in the food supply. We decided to scale aquaponics and make it a commercial venture. We want to produce more food and save all of those resources that they get excited about when thinking about aquaponics.
RVM: Is growing all year a key part of it?
OH: One of the main benefits of aquaponics in the food supply is that people are used to getting all of their produce all year round. I don’t think that’s something that needs to change. There are certain things we can have for people year round, things we can grow in greenhouses, and have that balanced, regular diet available for people.
RVM: It seems that there is a need for heat for some crops?
OH: I think that greenhouse is great for growing things. But heat and energy inputs are that element of the equation that makes it harder. We’re really excited actually to expand our growing operations. And that’s the element we’re most excited in, energy and heat. We’ve started a conversation with the Rogue Disposal Landfill that has a methane power plant. They use it to convert methane from the landfill to heat for thousands of homes in Medford and the bi-product is heat. So the heat energy that can be captured and transferred and used in greenhouse growing.
RVM: Logistically, how does that work? Is it a credit thing, or do you somehow move the heat to the farm?
OH: Well no, we would be expanding our operation in that site. There’s lots of farm land near that site. We see the future of aquaponics as “industry paired.” Use extra heat, near population areas, to grow food for less, and then reducing storage and delivery costs. Using the industry heat to produce better food is the most beautiful thing in my mind because it shows another example of the symbiosis aquaponics provides. Right now we are working on the planning and funding. We believe it is something people can get behind and show it work. We’re starting with 2.5 acres and trying to become a model for using aquaponics successfully in urban areas.