If taking your aquaponics hobby to the next level sounds like a dream come true, then you are on the path to becoming an aquaponic farmer. But, you may be wondering, where do you begin.
Having been an aquaponic hobbyist and farmer since 2010 JD and I continue to be passionate about sharing our knowledge and lessons learned along the way. It’s really exciting to see so many people interested in learning how to grow their own food, improve their nutrition and live more self-reliant. Aquaponics as a hobby can help you do all of those things. Additionally, turning your hobby into a business can help you start a meaningful new business, transition a career or earn some additional money out of their own backyard.
1. Start Small
It’s a good idea to try aquaponics at a hobby scale before jumping into farming. Many people determine at this stage if they love it, or if they would really prefer to do something else with their time. Having raised lots of different animals, I prefer fish because they don’t smell, they don’t make any noise, and they don’t require a lot of attention.
At a home/hobby scale you can:
- grow a lot of food
- try out different crop types
- work on your understanding of “seasons” in your climate
- sell to customers
Micro-farming, just like tiny houses is the cool and hip thing to do in cities all over the world, so seize your opportunity to be part of a growing trend. Many people have found really creative ways to trade, barter and get paid for their hobby, and are able to expand into bigger systems as the demand increased, which is a perfect way to start a new venture.
2. Determine Your Goals
Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to get involved with aquaponics. For some, it’s all about nutrition, and how to live healthier. They feel that it’s difficult to trust the food they buy because of chemicals or it’s too expensive to access healthy options. This leads into wanting to feel like you can control your own food supply, your health and know with confidence how your food was grown. Maybe you want engaging learning and responsibility opportunities for your children along with nutritious food. For us, it was about health for our family, and then connecting to communities who didn’t have that same level of access to food. Our goal was to increase food access at affordable prices and teach others how to take charge of growing their own food. We feel so blessed to be able to live out our goals every day. What are your goals and how can aquaponics help you realize them?
3. Take a Course
As Bill one of our students from April 2017 stated on the first morning of class, “Within the first two hours, I have already received enough information to avoid thousands of dollars worth of mistakes. The course paid for itself before lunch.”
Taking a course will:
- Help you gain the knowledge that you need to make informed decisions
- Save you time and money by preventing mistakes
- Teach you the steps to take for starting and operating your aquaponics project
Many of our students have gone on to launch successful aquaponic farms. Others have decided to keep it a hobby based on their goals and life situation. There isn’t a one size answer for everyone. Online courses can offer a lot of information. Instructional videos are great to see how others are going about building their systems. However, there is nothing more powerful than being in a living classroom greenhouse to see, hear, and experience the work. We are proud to offer students two aquaponic farms to visit during our courses. We are involved in the industry on a daily basis and hear from customers and students all over the world so we teach the latest trends. When you take a course, make sure that the person teaching is actually running a farm, understands your climate, knows how to engage the local market, and is a strong business person. Unfortunately, there are courses being taught by individuals who have never been aquaponic farmers, haven’t sold their products or have shut down their farms. While they may have information to share, it’s better to learn from people who are involved and innovating rather than those who have never been or weren’t able to make it work.
4. Think local
Some people believe they need to buy a multi-acre farm in the country to start their aquaponic farm project. This simply isn’t true. We have come to realize that being incredibly “local” is a valuable business model. We sell everything within 5 miles from our farm in the middle of the city. This reduces packaging, prevents long distance transportation and provides the freshest product. Local sales make it much easier to know your customer and stimulate the local economy. So if you have been holding off waiting to find a piece of property someday, maybe look closer to home. Partnering with churches, community centers, schools, recreation centers, wellness organizations, government agencies and housing developments are all prime locations for local food production.
5. Customer focus
Finding the right customer is one of the most critical factors when starting up a new business. The great thing is that everyone eats, so technically, everyone is a potential customer. Even at a home/hobby scale, customers are all around you. We have had great success connecting with people from our neighborhood, how about starting your own NSA (neighborhood supported agriculture)? Parents and teachers at our children’s school love having great food, and the kids get involved at pickup helping to sort fruits and vegetables and asking questions about how to cook foods they haven’t tried before. Moms really love getting kids involved. If you are a member of a church, then there is a full congregation that meets on a regular basis and having a family meal after the service of your fresh foods is an easy connection. Community groups, a fitness center, a golf club, your office, the local retirement center, all of them have people that will enjoy your food. Person to person connections is a great place to start. From there, branching out to catering companies, chefs, farmer’s markets and other outlets are possibilities. Don’t think that landing a contract with a big box store is the only way to be successful. The people who are around you already will be the fastest and easiest customers to get started with.
These five proven strategies are the foundation for a successful aquaponics business.
Do your homework – Get focused on your goals – Get educated
These are the best methods for beginning to realize your aquaponic dream.
The more you know, the more you grow!