The following is a guest blog post from Chris Lukenbill, owner of Fresh With Edge.
Earlier this spring the Urban Ag Expo in Minneapolis was hosted by the University of Minnesota for individuals either already involved or just interested in the subject. Originally we hadn’t heard about the event and with all the great agriculture events for either aquaponics and/or modern agriculture it’s hard to be sure to catch them all! Lucky for us though, Katie from Urban Ag Products gave us the heads up! Disclaimer: When I say “Modern Agriculture” I’m taking about truly modern and innovative agriculture, people that are doing more than just scaling up the same artificial nitrogen injection operations we usually find here in the Midwest.
Here at Fresh With Edge we have a couple reasons to have interest in urban ag. First, all urban ag operations include a lot of the same intensive yet sustainable practices that you’ll find us doing here with our aquaponics operation. Second, as with many aquaponics operations we have some potential opportunities for expanding into urban environments here in Rochester, MN to provide an even closer farm to plate experience!
So with that, we were off to Minneapolis on what was a unusually warm day of our unusually cold spring. We found the event at a very fitting location, an old school re-used as a community center. I thought that the tie to education and also urban building re-use was fitting for an event like this.
The event was comprised of multiple breakout sessions and took only a few hours. Even with the short format there was way too much information to summarize here, so instead I’ll provide you with five takeaways that I had from the event:
1. The co-op model is ideal for urban ag. The communitytable.coopoperation is working with individual farmers and everyone through the distribution process to help farmers produce while also buying any excess product they aren’t able to market through their own channels. It showed how a co-op model can work extremely well in an urban ag environment to provide everything from planting to distribution. They also had a great idea of starting community gardens at old folks homes which I really found ingenious. A wonderful way to engage the community and learn from people with years of experience in growing healthy food using sustainable methods.
2. Everyone loves aquaponics! During a session for interesting and new growing techniques the crowd was very interested in the idea of aquaponics and how it all worked. Dave from Garden Fresh Farm was there to show off some of their system ideas and I found myself thinking that maybe next year we’ll have to introduce everyone to some Fresh With Edge ideas!
3. Turnout could have been better. I was expecting a larger turnout, but it apparently was scheduled alongside other events going on in town that may have drawn other urban ag enthusiasts. I know there were a few people who talked about having to choose between the events and even some leaving early to hurry over to catch a little of the other event.
4. The connections are priceless. As with any conference the biggest value is in the people you meet. We had a chance to talk with a few individuals who we hope to be able to work with in the future!
5. Topics were wonderful. A good mix of topics, there were new innovations and ideas, a good amount of tried and true financial/business information to keep an operation working, and even highlighting the importance of the human factor of local food.
Overall it was a nice compact event that everyone with an interest in the field should consider checking out if they are in the area. We hope to find ourselves there again next year especially with a year’s worth of production experience as well!
Fresh With Edge is a family run startup that is the result of a combined interest in local healthy food and a desire to contribute to the solution. Starting with two years of research into the field of aquaponics, we eventually came across the ZipGrow system designed by Nate Storey of Bright Agrotech.
As of this last February, Fresh With Edge has begun the process of providing fresh herbs and greens to the Rochester community using this unique method for both growing and distributing food. Coming in late July the residents and visitors to Rochester will be able to visit the local farmers market and harvest fresh, still living produce directly from the towers. In the fall we plan to bring this same opportunity into the People’s Food Co-op as part of their downtown expansion.
Currently Fresh With Edge is finishing the majority of their build-out and planting the first run of towers. Their fish are in the system and starting to cycle. While they are a long way from a successfully producing system, their hopes are high and outlook is positive.