We have been running our prototype household aquaponic system for just over a month now, and this week we did our first harvest. It’s so nice to have fresh salad greens this early in the season.
Aquaponics is a cycle; both a water cycle and a life cycle, and we wanted to represent that key feature in our logo. In order to represent this cyclic nature, we decided to use a zen circle, or ensō, due to its fluidity and simplicity.
This logo was created through working closely with our friend Philip LeBlanc this summer. Jake and I spent a morning drawing zen circles with ink, which Philip was then able to take and manipulate into the logo we were looking for. Thanks to Philip, we now have several versions of our logo, which can be used in different situations.
Just as it is key to balance your career, relationships, and health in life, it is important to maintain a careful balance between the various parts of an aquaponic system; the fish, the plants, and the bacteria. Since these components are connected in a continuous cycle, they have a direct influence on each other. Even though each individual aspect is beneficial, just as aspects of life, too much of one can cause major issues. For example, the plants in aquaponics filter the water for the fish, and adding more plants improves water quality. The issue arises though when there are so many plants that there is not enough nutrients for each plant, and the entire system suffers.
The key is to find the correct balance so that each part has what is necessary to thrive. But this is not easy to do. It requires commitment, patience, and a bit of trial and error to get it right. The good news is that issues that arise are rarely irreversible, and the rewards of having a balanced system are remarkable.
What an exciting past couple weeks. July 30th marked the end of the TME Foundry accelerator program that Jake and I have had the great opportunity to take part in. The achievements of the Foundry cohort were celebrated that night at the Foundry Fest, and you could feel the positive energy in the room. That night, live at the event during our presentation, we launched our Kickstarter campaign to raise the $10 000 that we need to expand our aquaponics operation to grow more local and organic fish and vegetables for the region.
Two days later I got married to Anna Haines on a perfect first day of August, and Jake was our MC for the wedding reception. Then Anna and I were off on our honeymoon to Ireland for 9 days, and Jake was off to travel the world as well.
While overseas, Jake and I were able to push the Kickstarter, and have raised over $6000 towards our goal, but we need your help. If we don’t raise our $10 000 goal in the next 12 days, we won’t get any of the money. That’s how Kickstarter works; it’s all or nothing.
So we need your help either in the form of support or by sharing our Kickstarter link to the right people that you know. Watch the video on our Kickstarter for more information or read the Entrevestor article that was written about Oasis Farmery.
One of the many benefits of growing your own food is that it teaches you many lessons. Some of the lessons that I have been reflecting on this week are patience, value, and responsibility.
Food takes time to grow. This is a fact that is easy to forget in this day and age when a 5 minute trip to the grocery store instantly gives us access to food grown across the continent. Even with an aquaponics system speeding up growth, heads of lettuce or kale can still take 4 – 6 weeks before they are ready to harvest. Having this aquaponics system growing food has reminded me that food doesn’t grow instantly, and that I have to be patient with the process and wait to harvest the food.
This also ties in with the value of our food; not only the nutritional value, but how we value our food. Food is important, clearly, as we need nutrition to live our lives, but some people are unable to get the basic nutrition they need. At the same time, large quantities (close to 50% according to a policy brief from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Stockholm International Water Institute, and the International Water Management Institute) of the food produced worldwide is being thrown out. One of the main reasons for this food being wasted is because it doesn’t look perfect. People don’t value misshapen apples or carrots as much as their “normal” counterparts. I think people who grow their own food value food differently. It doesn’t really matter how it looks because you’re just as proud that with your help this life-giving food was grown, and you’re been patiently waiting for it to mature.
Finally, it is quite something to be responsible for the lives of many living creatures. Sure, I have taken care of my dog Biscuit for years now, but she can tell me when something is wrong. Fish and plants are much more sensitive and less obvious about communicating their needs, but I am learning the signals they do give. The process of learning these signals has not been easy, and we have had fish die that we have been nurturing for weeks. With 11 days until our wedding, Anna and I aren’t yet thinking about having children, but I know this responsibility that I feel for the fish and plants in the aquaponics system is just a shadow of the responsibility of raising children. Like raising children, it can be worrisome to have such responsibility, but it can also be very rewarding to see them grow and mature.
When Jake and I started building the aquaponics system several weeks ago, I thought I was going to learn about biology, business, and engineering. I have learned about those things, but I never imagined that it would teach me lessons about life as well. As we continue to work with aquaponics systems over the next months and years to come, Jake and I will not only continue to learn, but will strive to share these lessons with others, especially children.
After seven days without power, the aquaponics system turned on Friday evening without requiring the portable generator. This hurricane was quite the stress test for the system, but all of the fish survived and the plants are much happier now with a reliable source of water and nutrients. Even without power the tomato plants now have a handful of small green tomatoes where the flowers use to be, which will soon be ripe, red, and ready to eat.
As the plants continue to grow, so do Jake and I. We have had the great opportunity to be one of the five companies in the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship’s (TME) Foundry program this summer. Foundry has allowed us to work with a cohort of young entrepreneurs, get expertise from a variety of mentors, and get the funding we need to get started.
The companies in Foundry are all making a positive impact on people’s lives in very different ways. Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed have started a mental health conscious clothing line called Wear Your Label, Danny Nuguyen is providing Fredericton with delicious Vietnamese food at Beyond Saigon, Kati Waygood of Waygood Mobile Therapy is changing preventative health care, and Anna Haines of Ploome is enriching lives by teaching and selling fiber arts. Jake and I as the Oasis Farmery are part of this great group, and we all teach, support, and provide feedback to each other.
But as young entrepreneurs we only know so much, so Foundry has provided us with mentors that are experts in their fields. These mentors include Rivers Corbett (Serial Entrepreneur, Relish Gourmet Burgers), Philip LeBlanc (Artist & Designer, Fredericton Makerspace), Johnny Leroux (Architect & Designer), Gracen Johnson (Media Relations & Videography), and Dhirendra Shukla (MSc in Chemical Engineering, MBA, PhD, & TME Director).
Through this three month program, Foundry has propelled the Oasis Farmery towards being a successful business by providing us with a group of fellow entrepreneurs to lean on, mentors to guide us, and the money to grow.
After winds up to 70 km/h and 2000 trees down, 87 000 customers across the province are without power, including the mini farm where the Oasis Farmery is located. Once I realized Saturday morning that the power at Anna’s was out, I rushed to her house to check on the aquaponics system. To those new to the Oasis Farmery community, Anna is my fiancée, and her mother Pam has allowed us to set up the aquaponics system at her house/mini farm. The whole family: Pam, Anna, and Olivia, Anna’s younger sister, take care of the animals on the farm, including a pug named Gracie, a cat named Daisy, 11 chickens and a budgie.
The problem was that the fish can’t live long without the electric pump running to circulate the water and provide oxygen to the fish. Luckily, Pam’s father was already at Anna’s setting up a generator to run the sump pumps for the house, and we were able to use the power as well. The recently installed fence on our first aquaponics system was able to withstand the winds, along with our taller tomato and basil plants. The rest of the plants; pea sprouts, sunflowers, kale, and cilantro were all short enough that the edge of the IBC protected them. Also, the electronics box, containing the credit card sized computer that runs the system, was able to withstand the weather after being held in place by a cinderblock and a few logs, so everything inside stayed nice and dry.
Hurricane Arthur has taught us that the fish can actually go for longer than we expected without the pump running, which is great since the power isn’t expected to come back on for the next couple days. Until then we’re running on generator power and starting to consider a solar backup system.
Arthur gave us quite the scare but we survived and are on with a full head of steam!
All for now,