Just add water: Aquaponics firm meets growing demand
Phil Castle, The Business Times
Rick Kenagy believes he offers a better way to grow produce — just add water. Using aquaponic systems, that is.
Kenagy operates GroFresh Farms 365, a Grand Valley company that designs, installs and helps customers operate systems in which waste produced by farmed fish supply nutrients for plants grown in water.
He’s been involved in projects in the Grand Valley and Western Colorado as well as Georgia. He expects to remain busy as more growers take advantage of aquaponic systems and greenhouses to meet increasing demand for locally grown foods.
Aquaponics offers a number of benefits, Kenagy said. Produce can be grown with natural rather than chemical fertilizers. The systems actually use less water than traditional growing methods because the water is recycled.
Promoting the development of smaller, but more, growing operations also helps increase food security, Kenagy said. “It’s not magic. It’s just another tool to get local foods and local produce.”
Kenagy said his business venture grew out of his work in managing a community gardening operation for a Grand Valley church. In looking for ways to increase production and extend the growing season, Kenagy said he came across a video posted on the Internet about a small farm in Wisconsin using an aquaponic system. He said he subsequently attended a conference in Florida to learn more about aquaponics.
Kenagy said aquaponic systems combine aquaculture, or raising fish, with hydroponics, or growing plants in water. Fish waste provides organic nutrients for growing plants, while plants in turn filter the water in which the fish live. On a microscopic level, bacteria convert ammonia in fish waste into first nitrates and then the nitrates that constitute plant fertilizer.
Kenagy has built systems that use both media- and raft-based aquaponics. With media-based aquaponics, plants are grown in a media, such as clay pellets through which water flows and is filtered. With raft-based aquaponics, plants are grown on foam rafts that float in a channel of circulating water. Plants are placed in holes in the raft and the roots dangle freely in the water.
Installed in greenhouses, aquaponic systems can be used to quickly grow produce as well as fish — including talapia, a freshwater fish indigenous to Africa and the Middle East that have become a popular farm-raised species.
Kenagy has designed, built and installed aquaponic systems for a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse operated the Rooted Gypsy subscription farming operation in Grand Junction as well as a smaller systems at Sprigs & Sprouts of Western Colorado in Palisade and Living Hope Evangelical Free Church in Grand Junction. Working with a company based in Denver, Kenagy also has been involved in large aquaponics projects in Eagle as well as Georgia. Additional projects have been proposed for Palisade and Loma, he said.
The timing for his operation is good, Kenagy said, given the growing demand for fresh foods that are locally grown and raised.
But there’s also an opportunity to promote both sustainable food production and educational opportunities, he said. Greenhouses and aquaponic systems at schools, for example, could be used to not only grow food for school lunches, but also teach students.
It’s just a matter of adding water. Using aquaponic systems, that is.
For additional information about GroFresh Farms 365, send an e-mail to RickKenagy@gmail.com.