養耕共生新聞

Asheville man finds new career in ancient art of aquaponics
Cliff Jagger looks at a basil plant growing in his aquaponic greenhouse. He has created a business, Asheville Aquaponics, which sells kits that allow homeowners to raise fresh fish and vegetables in a system that circulates water and nutrients between tanks of fish and plots of mixed greens and vegetables.
Cliff Jagger looks at a basil plant growing in his aquaponic greenhouse. He has created a business, Asheville Aquaponics, which sells kits that allow homeowners to raise fresh fish and vegetables in a system that circulates water and nutrients between tanks of fish and plots of mixed greens and vegetables.
/ John Fletcher/jfletcher@citizen-times.com
Written by Dale Neal
ASHEVILLE — Everyone has heard the adage: Instead of giving a man a fish, it’s better to teach a man to fish.

But Cliff Jagger had a better idea: Why not teach fish and plants to feed each other to then feed humans?
Jagger made a good living as a landscape architect in Florida. Five years ago, he moved to the mountains and started renovating houses, just before that market collapsed in the Great Recession.
In his 50s and needing to reinvent his career, Jagger returned to a teenage interest — the ancient art of aquaponics — a self-sustaining agricultural system for producing protein and fresh vegetables.
“In Asheville, you have to diversify to survive,” Jagger said. “I’d read about aquaponics when I was young and was fascinated by the idea. It’s not anything new. The Chinese were doing this thousands of years ago.”
Last January, he set up Asheville Aquaponics, a business that fits the area’s growing appetite for sustainability. He builds and installs systems to raise tanks of tilapia fish. The fertilized water is pumped up to feed plots of lettuce and other greens, which in turn filter nutrients down to feed the fish below.
People have heard of hydroponics — growing vegetables in water, rather than soil — and trout farms are plentiful throughout the region. Fewer are familiar with aquaponics, which combines the two agricultural approaches.
A homeowner can use an aquaponics system to raise fresh fish and organic greens in a greenhouse, or even inside the home with smaller systems. Kits range in price from $75 to around $500, including installation.
Aquaponics is simple in theory, but it took some trial and error before Jagger perfected the setup. He started with 13 tanks in a small greenhouse behind his South Asheville house.
The tanks are food-grade plastic; currently he’s using containers that were used to ship olive oil. “It takes a while to wash away all the oil,” Jagger said.
He had a pump feeding tubes between the large 250-gallon tanks, until he figured out the water wasn’t circulating properly into the tank at the end of the row. He then had to put small individual pumps in each tank.
It takes about a month to balance out the pH levels in the water and the nitrates and other nutrients that are seeping through the gravel plots for the plants.
“I would recommend people trying to set up larger systems not try to do it by themselves.”
Jagger is selling more than PVC piping and pumps — he’s selling expertise. Along with the kits, he includes pre-seeded gravel and pre-treated water to avoid the toxic buildup that is the plague of aquaculture for trout farmers or hydroponic growers.
Jagger favors the hardy tilapia, which live on the bacteria and algae that naturally grow in the system, but a customer could raise catfish, trout or koi. Breeding the fish can be tricky, so he usually includes a few fingerlings in the setup. It takes about four months for the tilapia to grow large enough for harvest.
Jagger is still tinkering with keeping the greenhouse and the fish and plants at comfortable temperatures during the winter while keeping the electric bills low. He has experimented with composting around the greenhouse and solar fans for proper air ventilation.
But now he can step out back into his greenhouse and harvest fresh mesclun and greens, edible nasturtium flowers, basil, roma tomatoes and other herbs.
“You could grow watermelons in there if you wanted,” Jagger said.
One of his biggest clients so far has been the private Odyssey Community School, which bought two tanks as an ongoing demonstration for the private school’s science classes.
“It’s a new thing for the school, but it fits in with our mission teaching our kids about sustainability and the diversity of life,” said John Johnson, the school’s founder and executive director.
The school has 130 students in preschool through 12th grade.
Odyssey had a high school student build and install the solar panel that actually powers the system, while contracting Jagger to set up the tanks in a small greenhouse on the campus.
“The students are quite interested in the project. They love to see the live animals, and they can relate to the concept with the fertilized water going up to feed the plants, then dripping back down to feed the fish,” Johnson said.
The school’s fourth- and fifth-grade classes have taken on the care of the fish. Bags of the lettuce will be harvested and sold to parents at the school.
“And we’ll be harvesting the fish as well. They’re growing pretty nicely,” Johnson said.
In addition to Asheville Aquaponics, Jagger launched two other online businesses “to see which one would take off.” He started Biltmore Gift Baskets and sells survivalist food and first-aid supplies online.
Jagger says he gets more interest in the aquaponics business, and sells and installs about a system a week. He’s done exhibits at local organic farmers’ fairs and found more buyers, but he expects business to pick up as more people become familiar with aquaponics.
“People like the idea that no matter what happens in the world, they can still be fed with what they’re growing at home,” Jagger said.

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