Putting Down Aquaponic Roots Into the Food System

Putting Down Roots Journal #3

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By Brandon Youst
Bootstrap Farmer

The highlight of the Putting Down Roots conference, in my mind, was a panel led by Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish Company and Andre Uribe, Executive Chef at Bon Appetit and Willamette University.  They shared these tips to help commercial aquaponic growers:

  • Make logistics easy for the chefs and your customers in all ways that you can. Simple payment systems, simple packaging, bunching for easy processing, and if appropriate- washed and clean produce.

 

  • If you plan on working with any large distributor, you’ll very likely find yourself needing/wanting to get an organic certification so you can get the wholesale prices you’ll need for a premium product.
  • Chefs and procurement managers will pay more for produce, but only if the QUALITY and STORY is there. Consumers want fresh, local produce, but not if it looks like crap.  They also want to know where it came from, and even want to know who you are and what you're about.  Technology is allowing consumers looking to connect with their farmers and your story is how you, or the chefs cooking with your produce, can do that.  

I SAW THESE AS THE CRITICAL FACTORS NEEDED TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL AQUAPONICS BUSINESS:

  1. EDUCATION
    It’s never been ‘easier’ to start an aquaponics business than it is now.  Not to say it’s easy, because it’s not, BUT at least now we have proven systems you can learn from.  It’s obvious to everyone in the industry that the biggest failures come from those who haven’t taken the time to learn from others that have done it before.  YouTube learning does not count here.  If you’re not willing to invest $1000-$5000 to educate yourself via on farm-trainings and direct consulting, you definitely shouldn’t start an aquaponics business.  In fact, that principle applies to MOST serious business endeavors.
  2. NICHE PRODUCT
    Businesses everywhere are being built on providing an ever deeper array of niche products.  Aquaponics is perfect to meet this desire.  From a unique way to source fish, grow tomatoes, cannabis or specialty herbs, the possibilities are endless. Why try and compete with everyone else for the same product?  Aquaponics allows you to market an endless variety of products, standing apart from your competition.
  3. RELATIONSHIPS
    Aquaponics is unique and you are unique.  We can connect with customers in ways that large corporations will never be able to match.  By connecting with your customers with an authentic human experience, you’ll be engaging in a relationship that won’t have the price as the most important concern.  This applies to all businesses but it’s especially true for farmers - the relationships you build with those such as chefs or CSA customers are absolutely critical to your business. 
  4. LOCAL MARKET STRATEGY
    This is highly important and perhaps not discussed enough, even though it seems obvious.  Your. Local. Market. Matters.  It really should determine the rest of your approach before you spend a dime.  Know your market BEFORE you start an aquaponics business.  What works for Ryan Chatterson is not what would work for Tanya Sawyer because their markets are completely different.  Understand that first, and plan the rest around what’s possible within the limitations (or possibilities) in your particular market.  Clearly, aquaponics can work anywhere, so it’s not really about whether aquaponics is viable, it’s about strategy and execution.

THOUGHTS ON STARTING AN AQUAPONICS BUSINESS

I think most commercial aquaponic farmers will agree with the following advice:

You've got a real opportunity here, but, start small and learn first.  Your first batch of fish will have a premature death.  Only once you're dialed in on your home system should you even consider thinking you're ready to go commercial.  Even with that, it's crucial to leverage the skills and systems from those who've done it successfully.  Don't reinvent the wheel.  There will be time to tinker & experiment, but that should be so far secondary to a proven model when starting out.

There are many more topics I touched on that we will explore perhaps in a later post. For now, it feels good to know the industry is being led by many great people doing many amazing things. 

Till next time...  

Brandon Youst
FounderBootstrap Farmer

(This is the second of two posts from Brandon Youst. Read the entire article here: Putting Down Aquaponic Roots Into the Food System.)


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