Last week I had the pleasure of spending most of the week in Seattle. The highlight of course, was spending time with my daughter, a sophomore at the University of Washington (UW). But the rest of the time was spent in a variety of Aquaponics endeavors that I’d like to share with you here.
- Day 1 – The first day in Seattle I was a guest lecturer in the Food Studies class at UW. I find it inspiring that colleges even offer classes like this: I told the professor that when I read the Course description, I started to salivate.
NUTR 302Food Studies: Harvest to Health
Examines the many facets of the modern food supply from production and processing to distribution, marketing, and retail. Systems approach to foods studies considers geopolitical, agricultural, environmental, social, and economic factors along the pathway from harvest to health.
Doesn’t that sound amazing? Oddly the students of UW by and large don’t feel the same way because there are only about 60 students registered for the class and, since it was a rare sunny day in Seattle, only about 25 students were there (one of whom was my daughter who says this is her favorite class ever. What a chip off the old block!). Because it is a pure elective, most students just don’t have room in their schedule to take it, but those that do are very committed to the subject which made for an extremely engaging Q and A session after my presentation. The best part, though, was being able to get into one of my daughter’s classes! This is the first time since grammar school that has happened, and chances are it will be the last.
Day 2 – I had the opportunity to speak at Samammish High school to about 120 students who are all involved in Aquaponics projects through their innovative, integrated Biology / Chemistry curriculum. This event was arranged by one of the students, Eric Warwick, who I met through the Aquaponic Gardening Community. Eric is one of the most active and thoughtful members of the community, and you would never know that he is a 15 year old unless he told you. Anyway, I spoke for about 40 minutes, and then had another 45 minutes to field questions from the kids. And question they did! We had a wonderful time. The best part was figuring out that the “blight” they keep getting on their tomato plants is most likely Tobacco Mosaic Virus and is being caused by smoking cigarettes. NOW the kids have tangible, immediate proof that their smoking is causing damage, if not to themselves, then at least to their plants! The teachers were thrilled with this unexpected side benefit of my visit.
- Day 3 – I had the opportunity to visit community member Rick Stillwagon and his business partner, Josh. Rick is the creator of our beautiful Aquabundance Designer aquaponics systems, as well as being a martial arts instructor and a highly skilled master craftsman. When he isn’t building custom cabinetry for yachts, he is building aquaponics greenhouses locally and has a strong drive to figure out how to get as far off the grid as he possibly can. To this end he conducted a full blown research project into all the possible ways to heat water and found that most of them either required electricity or gas, or a constant supply of wood (rocket stoves) or consistent sunlight (solar based systems). Then he came across the WiseWay Pellet Stove. This compact, portable heating unit runs off of biomass pellets you can make yourself if you have a pelletizer and yard waste, or you can purchase them inexpensively at most hardware stores. You just fill up the hopper once every day or so and it will provide all the heat your greenhouse and fish tank need! I was excited to visit these guys not only to meet some online friends, but also to see this heater in action. I wasn’t disappointed. The guys were charming, the heater was as cool (hot?!) as it sounded, and for an unexpected bonus I got to experience Rick and Josh’s aquaponics greenhouse designs. No doubt you will soon be seeing more products from these guys represented on our website!
Day 4 – Now it was the weekend and time for the Mother Earth News Fair! The day started with breakfast at the hotel with some author friends I had met at the MEN Fair last September. It only got better as I left the hotel and almost plowed into Will Allen of Growing Power! He was waiting for his ride to take him over to the event to do a Keynote address. I introduced myself and we talked for a few minutes about what is going on in GP aquaponics. He said that he was quite excited about the work they are doing with perch. He has teamed up with the Great Lakes Institute and they are building a perch hatchery sand processing plant in Milwaukee. At that point his ride showed up and whisked him away and I had to be satisfied with hearing the end of the story in an auditorium with about a thousand other fans.
That afternoon it was my turn to speak. I had a 2:30 slot on the Organic Gardening stage. When I showed up at 2:15 the room was already half full. By start time there was standing room only and the room was packed with about 500 people! I love full rooms like this because the energy level is so high. I spoke for about 40 minutes, and then answered a slew of really great questions. At 3:30 someone from my publishing company showed up to make sure that I headed over to the bookstore to sign books. That was a blast as well as I not only got to talk to people one on one about Aquaponics, but I also had the privilege of sitting next to Ed Begley Jr!
That night was a dinner event with all sixteen of the New Society authors at the MEN Fair. Needless to say, many of the problems plaguing the globe were solved over wine and food that night.
Day 5 – Unfortunately I was not speaking on the second day of the Fair, but this did give me the freedom to do what I wanted to do all day. The main event for me was listening to Joel Salatin speak. If you ever get the chance to attend one of his talks be sure to do it! This man is the motivational rock star of the green- sustainable- homesteading- organic- self sufficiency movement. His talks are intelligent and funny, and every time I hear him I walk away saying “wow, I never thought about it that way”. Plus, he always mentions aquaponics as a sustainable, innovative way to grow our food. After his speech I stood in line for his book signing just so I could shake his hand and thank him for supporting aquaponics. He was, of course, as gracious and charming as you would expect a true hero to be.
The rest of Sunday was spent in my hotel room working on the Schedule and the Speakers page for the Aquaponics Association Conference in Denver and registration for the next Green Acre Aquaponic Farming Complete Course. It was time to think about re-entry back into my everyday life, but armed with the memories of a truly wonderful trip to Washington.