Shumin Farm


Down On Shumin's Farm
Shumin Wang attended our October, 2010 Commercial Training. I remember him as a remarkable tall man, who sat and beamed a huge smile at almost everything I said. He absolutely glowed with pleasure, and asked very few questions. When he spoke, he apologized for his English, which I assured him was better than my Mandarin. Because of the possibility of language difficulties, I was uncertain how much he actually understood. As it turns out, I need not have worried!

Shumin sent an email to me on March 5th, telling me he would be in Honolulu with his family, for a holiday at the end of April. He asked if he could come to the Big Island to visit us for a day, and we were honored and delighted to say "of course!"

On May 1st, Shumin arrived. We sat around the kitchen table and "talked story" for a while, as we say here in Hawaii. At one point, he asked if we would like to see photos of what he had built. Nothing in our entire experience of learning aquaponics for five years, and teaching it for four even remotely prepared us for what he showed us. Even now, three weeks later, Tim and I are still absolutely stunned.


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This photo gives you an idea why we were stunned when Shumin showed us the pictures. Look for the tiny human figure in the far right distance; it will give you an idea of the scale of Shumin's operation. This is only ONE of the three 11,388 square foot greenhouses he is currently operating., and these troughs only go HALFWAY down the length of the greenhouse!

Shumin started out by doing exactly what we recommend our students do: he went home and built a small test system. He spent $10,000 building his test system inside a rented greenhouse, and tested many things; "water vegetables" (as he said, not knowing the English words for the cultivars he grew), and most notably ginseng. After six months of testing, Shumin was ready to move on to his larger project, the first phase of which is now complete.

Shumin found land in a small village called, in English: Chikan Village, and in Pinyin, is called Chikin Cun Wei Hui. Chikan Village is in Yulindian Town, which is in Mouping District, in the Yantai Municipality, in the Shandong Province, in Northeastern China, on a peninsula that juts into the East China Sea.

Yulindian Town covers an area of 129 square kilometers, and in 2004 had 22,000 people. When we viewed his farm using Google Maps, it appeared to be in a very rural area. Here he built what is (to our knowledge), the largest aquaponics facility in the world. In May of 2011, Shumin moved his project here, on to a piece of land that is 20,000 square meters (4.9 acres).

The first phase of his ambitious and well-thought out project is three greenhouses, each 11.5 m x 92 meters (37.7' x 301.8'), for a total area under each greenhouse roof of 1058 square meters (11,388 square feet). All three greenhouses combined have a total area under roof of 3174 square meters (34,164.7 square feet), or almost one third of a hectare! And this is only phase one! Phase two will be built out of cash flow and will double the size to six greenhouses.

Inside each greenhouse, Shumin has built an integrated system that combines aeroponics, deep water culture on both polystyrene and hand made bamboo rafts, and gravel bed. Each greenhouse is divided in half by a huge, 5.5 meter (18 feet) diameter, concrete fish tank, each stocked with 200 kilos (440 pounds) of fish. Half the greenhouse is devoted to aeroponics, growing ginseng eight months of the year, and strawberries the remaining four months, when the ginseng is put into cold storage.

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A bamboo raft of Shumin's, showing vegetables and roots growing below the raft.

The aeroponics units he designed (and produced himself in his plastics molding factory; he's a resourceful fellow!) are two and a half meters tall (8.2 feet), allowing workers easy access by short ladders to vertical growing units that allow for thousands of plants per greenhouse. On the other side of the greenhouse, are four 45 meter (147.6 foot) troughs; three are raft, one is gravel, as well as one covered germination area one meter (three feet) wide that runs the entire length of each greenhouse (92 meters/301.8 feet).

Shumin has what we call in the States a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) with 40 members, who each pay the equivalent of $1500 US per year for produce, strawberries, chickens, and eggs. This provides Shumin's farm with a solid, guaranteed income of $60,000 per year. The area required to raise the food for the CSA only takes up 25% of his current greenhouse space, leaving another 25% of his production for him to sell to local markets. He has a full 50% of his greenhouse space left for the ginseng and strawberries project.
They are also raising 600 chickens, to sell both meat and eggs.

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One of Shumin's concrete fish tanks, with integrated solids settling, net, and degas tanks. Shumin has REALLY cheap fish food, electricity, and labor, with GOOD fish prices, so this HD system makes the most sense for him to use. If you're NOT in China, you need to learn more about what an HD system is, before you just build one and lose your shirt raising fish.

Using aquaponics water, ginseng has a three year growth cycle, rather than the five to six it takes to grow in the ground. It is very easy to tell how old the ginseng is, because the little plants have three leaves the first year, six leaves the second, and nine leaves in the third. Shumin's farm will also produce ginseng seed, baby ginseng, and young plants, which are at present very expensive and almost impossible to acquire. This is a smart business move, and gives his farm one more stream of income.

It cannot be overstated how both medically and culturally significant ginseng is in China. The demand for quality ginseng products always far outstrips supply. From the ginseng operation alone, they  project to bring in $150,000 US per year, beginning in the third year, and continuing every year thereafter. The strawberries are projected to bring in $75,000 US per year, beginning this year. Operating costs, including labor, are projected to be $60-80,000 per year for the entire operation, including the CSA, ginseng, strawberries, and the 25% of his production that goes to local markets.

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Another greenhouse, another set of troughs with different vegetables. You can see the back wall of the greenhouse covered with aeroponic piping, waiting for the racks that hold the plants to go in.

His entire cost of construction has been $250,000 to complete the first phase, and as mentioned previously, the second phase will be built out of cash flow. Currently, the greenhouse fish tanks are heated with hot water pipes that run underneath them, with the water heated by running a boiler. They will switch to solar hot water soon, as cash flow allows.

Having had many years in business as the owner of a plastics extrusion factory, Shumin's business background is very strong. While some of these numbers are projections, they are based upon his many solid years as a successful business owner. Shumin has invested his own money in a project that he believes will make him money while serving his community.


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Raft with plant roots, with more troughs and rafts in background.

Shumin and his family are also deeply involved in philanthropic endeavors utilizing aquaponics. Along with Shumin's brother, they have already built an aquaponics system in an orphanage in Thailand.

There are simply no words to express our gratitude to Shumin for attending our training, taking everything we had to offer, and creating something so unique and amazing that Tim and I are still stunned. It is good to know you are in the world, and your aquaponic farm as well. It is a great honor to know you, and to have been involved even a little in your success in aquaponics. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.


Aloha, ***Susanne
***

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