Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sustainable agriculture — Plants without dirt? Sounds weird. But not to Tree of Life Organics

[Idaho State Journal] POCATELLO — Scott Richardson can grow organic strawberries in the dead of an Idaho winter — without dirt.
The Pocatello business man’s secret is the science of aquaponics.
Richardson, the founder of Tree of Life Organics, is starting construction on a 15-by-80 foot greenhouse in the Arbon Valley that will eventually be able to grow “whatever, whenever.” Come late spring, he aims to sell his first crop of organic strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes and herbs to local families and restaurants. After a year in operation, Richardson will be able to grow most fruits and vegetables regardless of the season.
“The goal is a sustainable Pocatello,” Richardson said.
The $80,000 system is entirely soil-less. Inside a greenhouse, plants dangle their roots into small rivers while tilapia fish swim below. The excrement from the fish fertilizes the plants while the plant roots clean the water for the fish. The whole operation is sunk about 8 feet into the earth where temperatures are controlled by natural geothermal, with a little help from a heating system on those especially cold winter nights. Any electricity will be provided by wind and solar systems, making the whole thing self-sustaining. 
An eight-month pilot project in Pocatello proved that the setup worked wonders on a small scale. Richardson was able to produce 500 heads of lettuce on 50 square feet using less than 10 percent of the water normally needed for farming. Now, he aims to expand.
“Our community has a lot of interest in sustainability,” Richardson said. “We want food that is more locally produced, we want to know where our food comes from.”
It’s community interest, rather than big bank lenders, that Richardson hopes will fuel the financing for the project. The Pocatello man needs to raise $120,000 to build what he is calling his Ag “Earthship Vertical Aquaponic Smartfarm” or EVAS in the Arbon Valley. More than $3,000 in startup costs have already been raised through an effort on IndieGoGo.com.
“We want this to belong to the community,” Richardson said.
The complex system was the brainchild of the insatiably curious former physics student. Read More