This week the organizing committee for the new Aquaponics Association unveiled its work on the draft charter for the Association. While by no means perfect, I think it provides a strong starting point for launching the Association at the Aquaponics Conference on September 18th.
Although it was not possible to involve everyone that we would have liked in this preparatory work, the organizing committee did include myself, Gina Cavaliero of Green Acre Organics, Murray Hallam of Practical Aquaponics, and Wayne Hall. Wayne is building a commercial aquaponics facility in the Bahamas and he provided much of the legal expertise that went into the document. The group worked incredibly well together, despite being in three disparate time zones in three countries across two hemispheres. This dynamic was critical to getting the Charter drafted as anyone who has ever tried to group edit a legal document will tell you!
The main reason behind the Association is to promote aquaponics and the interests of aquaponic practitioners. This may best be realized by providing educational and speaking resources. Or it may pursue lobbying efforts to change food safety regulations to acknowledge aquaponics and its unique attributes. Perhaps it will develop a set of certifying standards for commercial aquaponic farms. It likely will continue to put on an annual conference and may create an aquaponics industry newsletter.
The Charter is now available for download and public comment on the Association website. Many have already offered quite a bit of positive feedback as well as some constructive comments. From these comments, it is clear that there are some questions about the reasoning behind some of the decisions the committee has made. We’d like to take the time to answer some of these here.
What is the reason for this association?
The vision for this Association centers on advancing and promoting aquaponic growing. We need to let the world know about this fantastic gardening and agriculture technique!
The execution of this goal can take on many forms. Some examples follow but there are many, many possibilities. At the home aquaponic gardening level, interested parties could form local initiatives to give talks at service clubs and staff booths at fairs and festivals that answer questions and hand out information. Participants might decide to meet monthly at different members homes that have established gardens. Some might decide to raise funds to install systems in schools, community centers, and other local sites that might enjoy the therapeutic and educational benefits of an aquaponic garden.
At the commercial grower level, this could take the form of establishing a set of food safety standards and then lobbying regulatory agencies to change some of their arcane rules around growing livestock and produce in proximity to each other. Consumer information pieces could be developed that could be handed out at farmers markets and posted on websites.
Why does this association include backyard gardeners, suppliers, AND commercial growers?
We have set up the Association membership structure such that all members pay the same rate, and all have a single vote. In this way, all benefit from the advancement of the Association’s vision and all contribute equally. Plus, the reality is that if we created separate organizations for aquaponic gardeners and aquaponic farmers we would have two much smaller organizations! There are still very few people involved in aquaponics! We want to change that, of course, and as our population grows we will have the opportunity to create more focused sub-organizations that address the more specific, respective needs of both farmers and gardeners. For now we propose creating standing committees at the Association level for Farmers, Gardeners, and Suppliers that will monitor and promote the interests of each of these perspectives from within the organization.
How have you structured this to avoid a possible conflict of interests?
The heart of this association will be the individual member, each of whom will have one vote. You can only join as an individual, not as a company. While we can’t guarantee that a member who becomes an officer won’t be driven primarily by their own business interests and that somehow these interests will be in conflict with those of the Association at large, we have put safe guards in place through both a disciplinary committee and an automated, online voting process. If you perceive an officer is not acting with the best interests of the Association at heart, vote them out!
In addition, the Association will offer an Affiliate level membership for aquaponics businesses. This membership offers a business an opportunity to be listed on the Association website as an affiliate of the Aquaponics Association, and the use of the Association’s logo on their own website. In exchange for this, the business pays the Association $120 / year and agrees to abide by a set of good business practices to insure that the use of the Association’s brand does not harm its reputation. The Affiliate business has no voting rights within the Association.
So in my case, I would join the Association as Member Sylvia Bernstein, and I would also join as an Affiliate with The Aquaponic Source. If I were elected or appointed to an officer position, I would do so as a member and NOT as my business.
How will we create this Association?
Gina and I have been promising from the day we announced that the Aquaponics Association Conference would happen in September, that this Association would be ‘birthed’ at this conference. It is one of the primary reasons many people are coming. We plan to honor that promise by adopting the Charter at the meeting. We would also like to take advantage of this room full of 200+ committed aquapons and elect an initial slate of executive officers at that meeting. Why? Because then the work of the association can truly begin! The officers will be empowered to create committees (membership, financial, etc.), set up a bank account to receive funds from the conference, and establish chapters and branches.
Are you interested in becoming an officer? If so, please let us know by clicking here and filling out some information.
Since only ‘members’ can elect the officers, we plan to give everyone at the conference the chance to become founding members of this new association. At the organizational meeting you will be asked to sign next to your name if you choose to be a member. Your initial dues ($1 until January 1, when we will be collecting the annual dues of $45/year) will be paid for through your conference registration fees. Once you have agreed to become a member you will be able to vote for officers.
What if I am not attending the conference?
After the conference, the Board of Governors will establish the online capability for people who did not attend the conference to apply for membership and pay dues (again, only $1 until January 1, 2012 when $45 annual dues will be owed). They will also establish an online mechanism for voting so that you no longer need to be physically present at the Association Conference to vote.
Why are you creating an international organization instead of starting with an American Association?
When we started planning this Association the idea was to create just an American Association. But as the planning process evolved, we discovered that many of the most ardent supporters of the ideals behind the Association came from other countries. Half the organizing committee is not from the U.S. Wayne Hall, who volunteered to pull together the initial charter document and has been instrumental in every detail of the charter is from the Bahamas. Murray Hallam of Practical Aquaponics in Australia has been openly talking about the need for an Aquaponics Association for years. Plus, since we have been soliciting feedback on the charter and officer applications we have heard from passionate aquapons from around the world, including South Africa, China, Pakistan, and Israel; about how much the establishment of an Aquaponics Association will help them with their efforts to promote aquaponic growing techniques within their own countries.
When faced with a choice between the easier path of simply establishing an American Association versus becoming an international association right out of the gate that can serve the needs of aquapons around the world, we decided to go the international route. In this current environment of global communication and social media, it honestly would have been difficult not to.
How do the Chapters and Branches work?
- The Association is the highest level and it will be run by the Board of Governors. This will consist of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer, the Chapter Chairmen, and the Directors (committee heads). It will be funded in part by annual assessments from the Chapters, and in part by the annual conference.
- Countries and regional groups of countries will be represented by Chapters. Chapters will have their own charters, will become legal entities within their own countries, and member dues will be collected at the Chapter level. If no chapter is available for a member they will belong to the Chapter at Large.
- Branches represent the state or regional level within the Chapters. There must be at least three members in order to start a Branch, and new branches must be approved by both the Board of Governors of the Association and the Chapter Chair. If no Branch is available for a member they will belong to the Branch at Large within the Chapter.
- Please click here for a list of proposed initial Chapters and Branches.
I hope you agree that this Association has the potential to bring some very exciting benefits to the emerging world of aquaponics! Please contact me or any of the other organizers if you have any questions. We are all in this together!