After just returning from a whirlwind trip and wonderful celebration of NOAH’s (Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest) grand opening in Vian, Oklahoma, I have a few moments to reflect on the experience, people and hope that this trip provided.
Going back to 2010, Richard Tyler, now the proud owner of an aquaponic farm, called to inquire about our Clear Flow Aquaponic Systems®, training and support. Richard wasn’t quite ready to move forward, but he was confident that day would come. One of the driving forces in Richard’s desire to efficiently and sustainably grow fish and vegetables was the need in his mostly Native American community for fresh, nutritious food. Richard had witnessed massive job losses and more and more people unable to feed their families. Emotionally moved, Richard started a food bank to help his community, always with the vision that his aquaponic farm would someday do the same. The food bank grew as the community needs grew, eventually feeding hundreds of people every day. Following both personal struggles and hard-won victories, Richard was determined to make his aquaponics farm happen. In 2014, without funds in hand to achieve this, he turned to the USDA and FSA. His first call was to Dexter Pearson, a USDA Advisor specializing in rural development. Dexter understood the potential of what Richard wanted to achieve and connected him with local FSA Agent, Steve Molloy. Throughout the entire process, Mr. Pearson provided assistance, input and support.
Steve Molloy was able to assist Richard with guidance on loans available through the FSA for land purchase, upfront equipment costs and installation, plus start up operating capital. The process was new to Steve but, with willingness from the FSA to embrace sustainable agriculture and aquaponics, he was able to put together a viable loan package. This helped the Oklahoma FSA establish protocols for funding aquaponic farms that include requiring a proven system design, comprehensive training and long-term grower support…a perfect fit for Nelson and Pade, Inc.® Clear Flow Aquaponic Systems®.
In May 2015, Richard attended our Aquaponics Master Class®, grinning ear-to-ear as his dream of owning and operating an aquaponics farm was beginning to come true. He had preliminary approval on the FSA loans and he was at the class to continue learning about his new career. By the fall of 2015 the loan was completed and the nearly 10,000 sq. ft. greenhouse and 6-500 Clear Flow Aquaponic System® were ordered. January of 2016 brought Richard, his son Logan and wife Jackie to the Nelson and Pade, Inc.® business campus in Montello, Wisconsin for their Extended Stay Learning Program. NOAH’s greenhouse construction was underway and the aquaponic systems were being built by our team of technicians. Spring saw the completion of the greenhouse and assembly of the systems and by early-summer, everything was built, fish were stocked and the first twinge of green was emerging from the plant beds.
The grand opening was a two-day event. USDA’s Dexter Pearson flew in from Washington DC, I travelled from Wisconsin and individuals from Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and other states were in attendance. The focus of Thursday was an informational workshop with talks from government agencies, funders and myself. Friday was a celebration of the opening of the NOAH aquaponics farm. Tribal leaders, government representatives, newspapers, potential growers and curiosity seeks were all eager to attend the open house and see the Clear Flow Aquaponic Systems® in action.
The excitement was contagious as people realized that this one farm is the beginning of something much larger. A network is now in place to assist other individuals who want to get started in aquaponics. With help from the USDA, a cooperative is being planned to assist individual farmers in Oklahoma with marketing and organization. Richard’s dream of an aquaponic farm helping to feed his community is now a reality, one that will grow and thrive, providing high quality, nutritious food to many people. As Richard mentioned during a talk at the open house, it truly took a community to build this farm…a community that included the USDA, FSA, state representatives, Nelson and Pade, Inc.®, friends and neighbors from near and far.
For anyone who has a dream to build an aquaponic farm, have hope that it is not just possible, but probable. Hurdles can be overcome; funding can be found. With the support shown for this farm as well as others, the USDA and FSA have demonstrated a commitment to and support of aquaponic farming. The requirements include having a proven system, training and support. We are here to provide that for you in the same way we have for NOAH farm.
Feel free to call (608-297-8708) or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information on how you can get started with a commercial aquaponic farm.