Sunday, January 11, 2015

Just Call Him...Aqua Man

Fresh Harvest Farm

Growing your own food is both satisfying and labor intensive. I appreciate the satisfaction that comes with putting my hands in the dirt, watching a seed become sustenance, and of course reaping the delicious rewards, but time and time again I hear from farmers in Central Ohio that pest control, the unpredictable climate, not to mention the back breaking labor are aspects of the profession that they could live without. Recently, I visited a farm northwest of Columbus that has managed to eliminate some of the less endearing pieces of the above equation and yet, still grow delicious, chemical-free food in the process.

Doug Blackburn and his wife Jeni grew up in Ohio, and like many of us have enjoyed growing their own food. They also shared a common disdain for the negatives previously discussed which were necessary to keep their garden growing. As Doug found himself searching for a means by which to retire, he came across the concept of aquaponics. He began researching this sustainable method of growing and soon decided it was the best option for his family and their future, and in June 2011 Fresh Harvest Farm was established on four acres of land in Richwood, Ohio. I visited the farm, which frequently offers tours, and despite the frigid winter temperatures, stepped into a greenhouse full of life. Doug was happy to share with me what makes aquaponics so unique along with the steps needed to grow crops without soil.

Aquaponics is a system of growing that combines fish, water, oxygen, and gravity. At Fresh Harvest Farms, it all begins with the tanks; each full of 1,000 perch. Water is drained from the fish tank into a media bed where beneficial bacteria breaks down the ammonia in fish waste to nitrite and then to nitrogen. The filtered water is then pumped to the grow troughs, where the farm yields an assortment of crops. The final stage consists of the water flowing from the growing beds back into the tank of fish to complete the full circle loop. Aquaponics can grow fish and produce using less than 2% of the water and 70-90% less energy than traditional farming. Doug explained that once it is set up there are few challenges with this system and not only can you grow year round, but the crops typically grow 2-3 times faster. They don’t use pesticides, and in fact, tell their customers the lady bugs (brought in to control pests that feed on the plants) are free!

The commitments at Fresh Harvest Farm have Doug busier than ever and although he still maintains his full time factory position, he and Jeni plan on expanding their space and having another greenhouse up and growing by the end of this year. Today they offer seven types of lettuce, two types of kale, collards, chard, and occasionally a few test crops like strawberries and peas. You can purchase Fresh Harvest Farm produce at the Clintonville, Easton, and New Albany farmer’s markets or find their greens on the menu at both Harvest Pizzeria locations and The Sycamore. Besides growing year round, the pair works closely with The Ohio State University, local schools, as well as a few prisons to share their knowledge in order to help others grow their own food in this sustainable way.


The Fresh Harvest Farm kale (pictured left) traveled 53 miles to Columbus, while the kale (pictured right) traveled over 2,485 miles to Columbus.


What's New and Beneficial About Kale
What is Aquaponics?

Pappardelle with Kale, Chestnuts, & Rosemary Cream Sauce

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