Testing the waters for gardening


  • Vijayakumar Narayanan at his aquaponics farm at his home in Palakkad
    Vijayakumar Narayanan at his aquaponics farm at his home in Palakkad

Vijayakumar Narayanan says ‘aquaponics’, a system of cultivation, is the future of agriculture

The premise that one needs ground for a garden does not hold water anymore. Not if you are into aquaponics! And to help you take to it as a duck to water is Vijayakumar Narayanan.

“Aquaponics is the future of agriculture,” Vijayakumar Narayanan says. In fact, he calls himself an ‘Aquaponics Futurist’, having successfully experimented with the aquaponics system of farming on his land. Vijayakumar is now in the city with the working model of an aquaponics farm that will be exhibited at the Flower Show that begins today at Kanakakkunnu and Suryakanthi grounds.


Campaigning For Urban Agriculture In The Farm to Fork Capital

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Paul Trudeau with Southside Aquaponics inside his backyard greenhouse.

Paul Trudeau unlocks a gate that leads to a small backyard greenhouse in the Southside neighborhood of Sacramento. It’s no ordinary greenhouse. Inside a tank holds several fish that he’s using to grow food. The process is called aquaponics.

“The fish exhale ammonia through their gills, and then different beneficial bacteria in the system convert that to nitrate,” says Trudeau.

Nitrate makes great plant food. Trudeau says water from the fish tank circulates to the plants that sit in the water.

“I’ve got a few different kinds of lettuce. This is Mibuna which is a Japanese mustard green kind of thing, some red Russian kale, some chard and collard greens.”


Trudeau opens fish tank inside his aquaponics greenhouse. Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Trudeau had a business license to sell the food to restaurants, but he wanted to expand. He found an oddly-shaped commercial lot in a blighted area and found an owner willing to let him put a greenhouse on it. But then he ran into trouble.

“I went to the city though to check it out, like ‘what would I have to do’ and they were like, ‘Well raising food, that’s not a permitted use in the commercial zone or residential zone,'” says Trudeau. “So I kind of got stopped in my tracks there.”

“That’s what’s called Euclidian zoning.” says Sacramento City Council member Steve Hanson. “That came about a long time ago where we said you should grow in one place, you should live in another, you should work in a third and you do industrial in a fourth.”

Hanson favors changing the ordinance. Despite a lack of opposition, it’s a difficult process. The Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition has spent over a year trying to change the law. Organizer Matt Read says zoning changes just take a very long time.

“There’s a whole city process that we didn’t know about before going into it called the Draft Ordinance Review Committee or DORC,” says Read. “It’s seriously what they call it. So anything that’s coming up in this way has to go through the DORC process.”

It’s also when city attorneys get involved. Read says he has a flow chart describing the approval process.

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Coming soon: The largest aquaponics greenhouse in Maine

More greens, butter lettuce specifically, grown in a clean, green way.

Tyler Gaudet’s patient girlfriend knew exactly when his side business had outgrown the couple’s East End apartment.

It was 2011, and Gaudet, a fisheries biologist, was raising scores of tilapia in hulking, open-top tanks in their spare bedroom.

“I had one jump out and dry out under a radiator,” Gaudet said. “(My girlfriend) was like, ‘the apartment smells fishier than normal,’ and just the fact that my apartment has a ‘normal fishy smell’ means these things gotta go.”

Gaudet packed up his tanks and moved into a tiny greenhouse in East Bayside. It was the birth of Fluid Farms, and now three growing seasons later, Gaudet and his business partner, Jackson McLeod, are preparing to expand their operation once again, swimming into unchartered waters as the largest commercial aquaponics greenhouse in Maine.

Every week during the six-month growing season, they churned out hundreds of heads of immaculate butter lettuce, which was quickly gobbled up by restaurant-goers in southern Maine.

“It’s a really clean product and you can use all of it,” said Taryn Kelley of Native Maine, which sells the lettuce for Fluid Farms. “That’s huge for clients.”

Yet the business so far is a part-time gig, squeezed between careers, wives, girlfriends and everyday life. If all goes according to plan, the pair will be full-time farmers by this time next year.

To make it happen, Gaudet and McLeod will leave their current 2,200-square-foot North Yarmouth hoop house, thanks to a landowner in Dresden who made a gargantuan deal with them. Fluid Farms would become the proud owner of a 36,000-square-foot greenhouse that the landowner no longer wants, in exchange for disassembling the 3/4-acre skeleton of metal and glass. The duo plan to reconstruct the greenhouse in sections as they grow, until the operation is producing lettuce year-round.

“We know what are goals are,” said McLeod, an engineer who designs automated machines for a living. “We want to get to a size that employs us, but not to a size that’s too big.”

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