The Farmer’s Market has been a central human tradition through much of our history. Farmers and merchants bring their produce and wares to the town market square on market day and serve their neighbors, exchanging food for currency. In the middle of the last century the Green Revolution, the flight to suburbia, and our new national love affair with packaged and frozen foods caused Farmer’s Markets to fade into quaint obscurity, joined by most of the family farms that fed them.

Fortunately, the past few decades have seen a strong revival of Farmer’s Markets in urban centers around the world. We’ve realized that freshly picked, organic produce from local farmers you can get to know and support is a community asset to be valued and treasured. Here in Boulder, CO we are lucky enough to have one of the largest, most active Farmers Markets in the country, and from opening day in early April through closing in late fall, the Market is without a doubt this town’s true weekly community gathering place.

So how can Farmers’ Markets, along with the very notion of freshness with which they are so intertwined, evolve? Aquaponics! I’ve seen a number of very interesting ideas over the past week that offer an exciting glimpse into the future of ‘fresh’.

1. Living Food

Fresh produce starts losing it’s vitamin content, especially vitamin C, as soon as it is picked. Produce found at a Farmers’ Market has generally been harvested that morning, or the day before, so it is far fresher than anything at your grocery store, which has probably had a long cross-country journey before arriving in your shopping cart.

But we can get even fresher.

Green Acre Organics

Green Acre Organics

Aquaponically grown produce isn’t anchored in soil, so it lends itself to being grown in systems that are designed to be easily transported to the market. And the produce will continue to live and grow even while at the market.

This is especially true of raft based aquaponics where the net pots inserted into holes in the floating raft can easily be removed and put into a storage container for transporting to market while still fully connected to their root-balls. Here is how the ladies running a commercial aquaponics business in Florida called Green Acre Organics describe how they make their weekly trip to the Farmer’s Market: We have large totes that we have insulated on the sides with 1/2″ Dow blue board. In the bottom is a piece of 2″ Dow blue board with about 80 holes to fit 2″ net pots (the plants are packed in quite tightly). We fill the tote with about 2″ of water and have a large 6″ medium pore air stone in the bottom underneath the foam raft. We then supply air via a small aquarium air pump. We either run it off an inverter in our vehicle if nearby, from power if available or last resort we use a small lawn mower battery with a DC inverter. Aeration is definitely a necessary component to keep the plants looking nice and healthy with so many in such a small container. When we make a sale, we pull the plant, cut off the roots and net pot, and bag up the produce. For lettuces, we dunk them right then in ice water to help them crisp up for the ride home and our customers love it!

ZipGrow Tower

ZipGrow Tower

Another way for an aquaponics business to bring living produce to the Farmer’s market is with vertical towers. The ZipGrow towers by Bright Agrotech can be easily unhooked from their hanging position in the greenhouse, slid into the back of a van with racks, and displayed at a Farmers Market. Harvesting can be delayed until the moment the customer has made their selection, and the plant remains in its freshest, living state as long as possible.

2. Mobile Markets

Roadside Culture Stand

(image provided by Phillip Katz � Project Development LLC.)

So how can you improve on the freshness of harvesting your own produce at the last possible moment at the Farmer’s Market? Well, what if the Farmer’s Market came to your neighborhood or workplace? This week I saw a new concept in grocery shopping called a Roadside Culture Stand. It is a self-contained market booth that fits onto a custom trailer that can be pulled by any vehicle with a trailer hitch. It is powered by solar panels. Now rather than waiting for Market Day you can buy and sell fresh, even living, produce where-ever and when-ever the customers are. Think of it as an Ice Cream Truck for fresh produce.

(for more information on the Roadside Culture Stand contact Phillip Katz Project Development LLC, c: 414.467.5442 o: 262.240.9806 e: designbuild@phillipkatz.com)

3. In-Store Farming

The last development in fresh produce marketing that I’ll highlight is an idea that is still very much in its infancy, but because of aquaponics has a chance to explode into an exciting new trend: In-Store Farming. Yes, health food stores have been growing sprouts and wheatgrass in-store for decades, but I’m talking about full-on growing of highly perishable produce right in the store.

One of my favorite examples of this is The Farm: Shop in England where Charlie Price of Aquaponics UK has worked with a team that has converted an old neighborhood shop into a complete farm, with chickens on the roof, pigs in the backyard, and a commercial aquaponics setup humming away in the basement. The results of all this growing can be enjoyed in the restaurant on the main level. Now that is locally sourced food!

ZipGrow Green Grocer

ZipGrow Green Grocer

Another great example is again by Bright Agrotech. They have developed a very attractive stand that features their ZipGrow towers that can be used as a display in a grocery store. They are currently testing it in some natural food stores and plan on soon rolling it out extensively.

(for more information contact Nate Storey at nate@brightagrotech.com)

Why does aquaponics lend itself particularly well to this kind of display?

  1. It is soil-less, so no dirt or dirt-borne insects in the store.
  2. It is easier to maintain than a hydroponic system would be because there are no nutrients to adjust and no nutrient reservoir solution to pump out and replace.
  3. The fish are fun and create unique differentiation for the store.

While we have much to worry about with regard to the future of our food supply, we also have much to look forward to. Fresh and the Farmer’s Market will continue to reinvent themselves in new and exciting ways, and I believe that commercial aquaponics will be leading the way.