Yesterday, myself and Horticulturalist and Radio Show Personality, Bob Carey, journeyed to Carlisle, PA to attend the Grand Opening of We Feed Us, a completely sustainable Tilapia and Produce farm facility, the first of its kind in the area.
Co-founder and Principal, Michael Andrus, has officially unveiled his concept for a self-sufficient, closed-loop food production facility which adheres to his high-production, high-yield, small footprint mantra which in turn, supposedly reduces CO2 emissions while increasing national food security - or in his own words ~ "Just look at our name. It's not the Chinese or the Ecuadorians or Argentinians Feed Us; it's WE Feed Us - or perhaps it can even be taken to mean, We Feed U.S. It's something we believe in."
Housed in a 6000 square foot bio-secure greenhouse, the beginning of the food chain begins with what the Tilapia are fed. Currently, they are fed a high-value fish food called, AquaMax. However, that will soon change.
You see, closing the loop completely is reliant upon the manufacturing of their own fish food which requires a lab for aquaculture and algae production. This too will be housed within the greenhouse facility.
Although it has yet to be announced, We Feed Us will be working with AlgEternal Technologies LLC, who has developed a proprietary algae growth process that enables highly efficient, volumetric production of algae by photosynthesis. The entire idea behind the partnership, is to grow algae to produce a high-value, algal inclusion fish food; a non-genetically modified product which enables a larger, healthier fish, that in turn, produces more babies while lowering mortality rate. This makes their Tilapia production self-sustainable by eliminating the need for external food.
Following the algae and food production, the self-sustainable chain then extends to the fish themselves.
We Feed Us is committed to non-genetically modified fish and they import both White Tilapia and Blue Tilapia from a USDA certified hatchery in Kansas City as fingerlings.
The fingerlings are then housed in four 50 gallon nursery tanks which hold 200 fish per tank. These nursery tanks provide the perfect environment for the fish and allows them to grow comfortably.
As the fish near marketable size, they are removed from these tanks and placed in purging tanks before being harvested for consumption.
That's the fish production portion of the chain on the surface - below the surface many more elements are at work.
The system actually removes the fish waste from the tank environment where the fish live and grow, and puts it into holding tanks. This single step lowers the ammonia content of the water and provides healthier fish. But there's more.
Within these holding tanks, that ammonia turns into nitrites and bacteria, and from that, into nitrates within mineralization tanks. This nitrate and nutrient enriched water flows through one continuous 9000 gallon, gravity fed system which feeds the produce nursery. That's right, produce.
Water that would be discarded into the environment at other fish farm facilities, is now put to good use to grow produce within the same facility year-round.
The lettuce begins life in small beds which hold 100 heads per bed, where 1600 heads can be seeded at one time.
On the nursery tables to the rear, they can transfer 3,060 heads for growth on less than 1/4 acre.
These Nursery Tables are actually called Nutrient Film Technology (NFT) and are simply channels for the lettuce to grow which constantly has the nutrient enriched water flowing through it.
The NFT's come in two sizes - Nursery and Grow Out, and if that isn't enough room, there are another 1440 plant sites located in what is called, the Raft Tanks.
In addition to lettuce, We Feed Us will also grow micro-greens as well as specialty Thai Basil.
However, what I really found impressive was what they considered to be, extra-production - growing Papaya. They intend to accomplish this by utilizing what they call their media beds.
Each media bed will contain expanded shale into which they'll pump semi-solid fish waste along with nutrient-rich water and air, creating the perfect environment for growing Papaya.