As you undoubtedly recall, if you have followed our story here at GRG, when my father (Farm Manager Mike Brooks), uncle (Fish Operations Supervisor Tony Brooks), long-time GRG associate T.J. Hopper (Plant Operations Supervisor), and myself (Technical Supervisor) first came together, to turn things around for the greenhouse, we faced a steep uphill climb. The system itself was built…well, backwards. The filtration was inefficient, the growbeds were nearly anaerobic, fish were dying in large numbers…the problems went on and on.
If we were going to make GRG the operation that it had the potential to be, we would have to get started quickly on discovering the solutions to our many problems. Despite some knowledge that T.J. had picked up in his time at GRG – he has worked here since the opening in 2012, our current team had very little knowledge of aquaponics, sustainable farming, or commercial agriculture at all for that matter. In order to fix the problems we were faced with, we must first learn to fully understand the reasons they were problems in the first place: why is important to extract the solids from the system? … How does the current construction of the system effect the removal of solids? … Why are the fish dying? … What are nitrates and nitrites? … Beneficial bacteria? … What does anaerobic mean? … etc. etc. etc……..
Again, those who have followed Green River since the early days, you are most-likely aware of our journey to get things pointed in the right direction…so-to-speak, but I want to at least include a brief review for the thousands and thousands of new followers we have received over the past year alone – we appreciate the support given to us, and the sustainable farming community world-wide, by each and every one of them.
Trying initially to save resources by seeking an “in-house” solution, we decided to purge the pea-gravel growbeds with a giant water-cannon that Farm Manager Mike Brooks crafted from PVC: we walked back-n-forth, up and down, and from side to side, pushing the cannon down into the media attempting to flush all of the solids towards our submersible pump that would carry the waste out of the growbed, and out of the greenhouse entirely. The trouble from the start was how quickly the pump would clog, and stop sucking up the waste water. It then would require ample time to clean it out so we could begin the process again. In the end this idea just proved to be extremely too labor-intensive, and time consuming. Just so we could do it all over again every six to twelve months? … No thanks! Time to call the professionals…but wait! Who are the professionals?
After some involved leg-work, we finally received a recommendation to contact a company in Apopka, Florida who specializes in eco-systems; aquaculture, aquaponics, RAS, etc.
Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems is an amazing company that can provide everything needed to build, run, and maintain a recirculating AP system. They will visit your system, in the event that such a thing is required, discuss the ins and outs of the system; how it can work better, what it is currently doing compared to its potential, etc. They will even provide on-going consultation and support after any hands-on work is completed. Contacting Pentair was probably the single most important decision we made. Looking back at what we have accomplished on account of their availability to us: it likely would have taken much longer, and required considerable more resources had we chose a different path. Pentair comes highly recommended by Green River Greenhouse, LLC. to anyone needing to better understand the industry and/or their specific system.
After visiting our facility, Pentair representatives put together a plan for retro-fitting our system: remove the gravel from the growbeds and instead use a floating raft method for growing produce, add baffles to our existing filtration to slow the intake of water down and considerably increase retention time needed for solids to efficiently settle out, and finally, add a secondary up-flow filtration unit, at the end of each growbed, to capture the finer solids that made it through the initial filtration component.
After nearly a year of getting the revisions installed, and waiting for bacteria to grow, GGR had a system now that was capable of growing a worthy crop, and producing delicious farm-raised fish.
Over the next year we made several visits to farms, workshops, conventions, we even spoke to consultants around the country to obtain as much knowledge about the aquaponics process as possible: how to properly start plants in our propagation room (time was also spent preparing our propagation room), learning the importance of and how to introduce supplementation, learning recommended nutrient ranges, how to maintain pH and what those recommended ranges were, how to rear fish properly and keep their environment of optimal condition, we had to add a packing room to our greenhouse, complete with a large cooler, so we could ensure a properly handled product post-harvest, etc. etc. etc. The list was seemingly endless.
Which brings me to the current State of the Greenhouse. Currently we are growing what I believe is the best baby romaine on the planet. Perhaps there are those who grow a comparable product, using the aquaponics method undoubtedly, but I wholeheartedly believe that there isn’t any better romaine lettuce in existence. In terms of flavor, shelf-life, cleanliness, nutrient-density, and naturalness, Green River Greenhouse produces a product that is far superior to what is offered across the world by the truckload. Any food-market manager or chef within a 500-mile radius of GRG, who truly wants to provide a premium product to their patrons, should have this baby romaine on their shelves or menus. If they do not, I question their commitment to customer satisfaction. If you are a chef or the manager of a healthy food-market, and you have yet to sample this product that I speak so highly of, please contact us so we can get a free sample case to you immediately. (Take a look at how chefs are using this great produce)
It took some work to get to where we are today, and the journey was a long one, but nobody at GRG regrets one minute of it. We formed a goal to turn a struggling business around, and make it work, because we knew what places like Green River Greenhouse meant to the future sustainability of our great planet.
The work nor the journey are over however, and never will be for that matter. We must continue to learn and push forward with innovation and new ideas. Not only for this particular company, but for sustainable agriculture worldwide.
The Green River Greenhouse story is one we feel is extremely valuable to anyone who wants to start a commercial sustainable agriculture/aquaponics farm of their own. Not only in regards to the particular information needed to succeed, but the importance of getting the information in a manner that doesn’t drain your resources in the process. We need each of these farms to succeed for the entire industry to be successful. I hope that’s not too confusing. Simply put: If we are successful individually, and thus recognized as a legitimate method of agriculture, then all of those things that make sustainable agriculture and aquaponics so wonderful will be realized by the general public; creating more demand and in-turn more success across the world. That knowledge will also be spread to the top, and create opportunities for more help at a national level, such as grants and the like.
With a need will come clearer guidelines from organizations like the USDA on organic regulations as well. Anyone who is currently dealing with, or has recently dealt with agencies like EcoCert knows that there is a dire need for a more transparent list of guidelines regarding organic aqupaonics/hydroponics/sustainable farming front. Currently the organic guidelines for conventional farming are being cross-referenced, causing a lot of confusion with farmers and certifying agents both.
GRG offers tours of our facilities provide hopeful aquaponics farmers with the information they need to be successful without the extensive leg-work that would otherwise be successful. We have already weeded out any bad information, and have just the pertinent information you need to succeed. We feel like attending our tour your chances for success will be greatly increased. Click for more information pertaining to ‘Facility Tours’.
Thank you for reading this review of the current state of Green River Greenhouse, and how we got there. Please look out for upcoming State of the Greenhouse Addresses under the ‘GRG Blog’ tab at the top of the GRG website.