Jun 19 2019

AquaSprout Farms: A Fish Story
About Growing Greens

Grow beds at AquaSprout Farms.

Take a trip with us to AquaSprout Farms and learn more about one of the newest farmers to join our market this year. Make sure to visit its stand when you visit our Farmers’ Market this Sunday. 
What does raising fish have to do with growing crisp and delicious lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes?
Quite a lot, if you’re AquaSprout Farms, one of the new farmers you’ll see each week at our market.
AquaSprout Farms runs an aquaponics system, which is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). And on its Branchburg farm, AquaSprout has created its own natural ecosystem to raise vegetables.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works: AquaSprout Farms raises tilapia in bright blue tanks, and on a daily basis, feed their fish non-GMO fish food. The wastewater created by the fish, which is very rich in ammonia and other nutrients, flows from the fish tanks through a system of filters and mineralization tanks. After being filtered the water flows down into the grow beds where the plants are nestled into rafts.

Keith Mitzak with the fish tanks at AquaSprout Farms in Branchburg.

Naturally occurring and beneficial microbes, found throughout the entire system, help break down the fish waste, converting the ammonia into nitrates, which are absorbed by the plants for nutrients. The now fully filtered (cleaned) water gets circulated back into the main system fish tanks. By “recycling” this water AquaSprout Farms uses 90% less water than conventional farming.

Stephen and Keith Mitzak’s AquaSprout Farms started attending our winter Farmers’ Market this past year.

When the fish grow to market size, they are sold to Metropolitan Seafood and Gourmet.
Secondary components of the system help ensure that no fish waste is discharged into the local environment.
Porous clay pebbles — about the size of marbles — also play a key role in growing kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes. These pebbles have beneficial microbes that break down the fish waste and provide a nutritional boost to the plants. AquaSprout keeps red wiggler worms in the beds, and they help break down waste; their worm castings also help fertilize the plants.
“It’s a closed-loop system, all in-house,” notes Keith Mitzak of AquaSprout Farms, “where we have created a system which mimics a natural ecosystem. In this ecosystem our plants, fish and microbes live together in a symbiotic relationship.”
One of the difficult aspects of running an aquaponics system is that the farmer must take into consideration the conflicting needs of the plants, tilapia and beneficial microbes. For instance, the plants thrive on temperatures around 60 degrees, while the tilapia prefer it a little toastier, around 80 degrees.
AquaSprout Farms’ story began in 2011. Keith and his twin brother, Stephen, were always interested in the environment, sustainability and gardening. While working at Bloomberg Financial, Keith happened upon the book Aquaponic Food Product — Raising Fish and Growing Greens for Profit by Rebecca Nelson.
What initially started out as a fascinating hobby turned into a business for the young entrepreneurs. They searched until they found the ideal location for their new venture. It took several years to research and build the system and get it to work exactly as they wanted.
“In 2016, we found our location,” Keith said, “and from here we really started moving forward. We completed our business plan, and the next year was all about building our system after work and on the weekends. We were pencil pushers trying to be carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.”
Last year, AquaSprout Farms started offering its flavorful oak leaf and looseleaf butterhead and baby romaine lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and other greens. Their aquaponics system is why the farm can offer cherry tomatoes in the winter.
AquaSprout joined the winter Farmers’ Market in December and have been with HLT ever since. The products offered are harvested the morning they are brought to market, meaning they’ll taste great, and stay fresh and crisp in your refrigerator longer.
Website: www.aquasproutnj.com

Great greens!

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