A new kind of sustainable agriculture has made its way to Panora, Iowa: Aquaponics!
When it comes to a sustainable food production system, aquaponics is a fairly young idea. But the concept behind it is nearly as old as life itself. Aquaponics combines traditional aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) to create an environment that simulates an aquatic ecosystem in order to sustains itself with very little input. With the help of naturally-occurring bacteria, this re-circulating system converts fish waste into nutrients necessary for plant growth, and in turn, the plants filter and clean the water for the fish.
The advantages to this system are numerous: no back-breaking weeding, no threat of furry predators, limited water usage, protection from bad weather, no dirt to rinse from vegetables, and the potential for year-round production. But the benefit we value the most is the fact that aquaponics creates a closed-loop system that does not need synthetic chemicals. In fact, the system is more productive without any input at all! And as we all know, having a smaller ecological footprint is beneficial for us all.
Early Morning Harvest’s founder and owner, Jeff Hafner, is no stranger to sustainable agriculture. After farming with his father, Earl Hafner, for seven years, the father-son pair decided to begin transitioning both their farmland and cattle to organic. Now with a few hundred head of certified organic cow-calf pairs and with over 1,000 acres of certified organic crops, Jeff began looking at new and innovative ways to grow vegetables sustainably.
While serving overseas, he met a colleague that was working on his PhD in aquaponics. Although the term was new to him, he was immediately intrigued. In late 2010, he purchased a system from Nelson & Pade, a Wisconsin-based aquaponics research and supply company, and began to convert an old hog building on his farm into a greenhouse. It wasn’t long before Jeff began hiring a small staff that would help build Early Morning Harvest so he could continue to focus on farming. And now with a grant from Iowa State University, over the next two years, Jeff and his team will research the economic feasibility of aquaponics for other small-scale Iowa farmers who, like Jeff, enjoy trying something new that benefits the environment and local community.
Early Morning Harvest hopes to begin giving tours of the facility in the fall once the system is up and running successfully. Please check back then to schedule your visit! In the meantime, sign up here to find out what we are harvesting in the garden each week. And be sure keep your eyes peeled for when we start harvesting red ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce, fresh herbs and mouth-watering tilapia from our aquaponics system!