BY VALERIE WARD / PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRENDAN BURDEN | JUNE 21, 2018
Setting up the new system was a steep learning curve, he says. “What’s out there is either really big or it’s homescale, but we wanted something in between.” An electrical outage, along with plumbing and filtering problems were just some of the glitches the team encountered. In addition, the work had to be done as cost-effectively as possible, using recycled and refurbished equipment, as well as plant seeds collected from Abbey’s organic home garden. And, new funding had to be secured for aerators, LED lighting and upgraded plumbing and electrical systems.
But it all came together. Today the facility is central to the urban farming skills program launched in February 2018 and has expanded to include a commercial rotary hydroponics system — another soil-less growing technique — they call the Omega Garden, along with a flourishing vertical garden fuelled by vermi-compost (compost from worm castings, shown to suppress plant disease and pests).
While aquaponics take hold at the Nepean high school, a home-based aquaponics operation called Miner Aqua Green Foods aspires to bring more organic produce to consumers. Based in Curran, southeast of Ottawa, it’s a labour of love for Frederick Miner and his daughter Kassandra, who launched the project early in 2017. Frederick had run a successful insulation business in Hawkesbury until an attack of Lyme disease left him with chronic health problems and forced to find a new line of work. He wanted to pursue something that would draw on his love of food and childhood experiences on his father’s hobby farm and settled finally on aquaponics as an environmentally responsible way to produce clean food.
He threw himself into the research, taking online training from Australian aquaponics guru Murray Hallam. Once Miner and his family moved to Curran, he transformed the garage on the property into a 20x30-foot aquaponics greenhouse. “It was lots of work, but lots of fun. I had to be innovative and find inexpensive materials that would be safe, functional and allow the system to expand,” he says. For example, he would have paid about $65,000 for a commercial grade set-up. “Instead, for less than $7,500, we developed our own system using mostly recycled materials and dollar-store accessories.”
Depending on the plant, Miner used one of six soilless growing systems, including vertical pipes with divots to house the plants, floating water tables and a coconut fibre-vermiculite mix with half-inch crushed stones for the plant roots. “Earth is too compact, it inhibits growth,” he says. “With aquaponics, it only takes 21 to 24 days to bring a plant from seed to harvest.” In the first year of operation, Miner’s soilless systems produced salad greens, Red Russian and curly kale, spinach, herbs, strawberries, three types of tomatoes, squash and cucumber.
Kassandra, who handles marketing and customer relations, sells produce mostly at the farm gate, with some of it going to the Fox & Feather Pub and Grill on Elgin Street. But in the long-term, she and her father want to supply one or two restaurants consistently and to have a presence at the ByWard and Landsdowne markets. In addition, they have begun to replace the koi and goldfish in their system with fish, such as tilapia, which could one day be sold along with the vegetables and fruits.
In December 2017, the Miners suffered a setback — an electrical fire damaged the greenhouse and contaminated the plants. But they quickly bounced back, making the necessary repairs and installing a new floating-raft growth system. At the same time, they’re trying to raise money for a larger, four-season greenhouse through channels, such as partnerships with community development groups.
Through it all, they continue to follow their own formula for success in the blossoming world of aquaponics: time, patience, dedication, and a love of clean food.
Miner Aqua Green Foods
3404 Boudreau Rd.,Curran, Ont.