On Saturday, April 11, members and friends of Orlando Presbyterian headed out to Do Good Farm. The Do Good Farm is the brain child of Josh and Kelly Taylor. This small acre-and-a-half farm near Winter Garden is a laboratory and demonstration. The idea is to create a sustainable, fully organic system for people in distressed areas to be able to grow their own food. There are a number of components working together to create a complete circle. Josh uses “aquaculture,” the growing of fish in a closed, fresh-water tank to produce edible protein. He also uses “hydroponics,” the growing of fresh vegetables and plants without the use of soil. Neither of these are particularly new sciences. Much of the fish we eat in restaurants or buy from the grocery store is farmed and there are lots of places around the world that are either experimenting with or regularly using hydroponic techniques to grow fruits and vegetables in normally plant-unfriendly places. The unique aspect of the Taylor’s plan is the combination of these two idea into a process called “Aquaponics.”
The issue is this: Anyone who has a goldfish tank knows that if you don’t clean out the water regularly, either by using a filtration system or at least changing the water in the tank, the fish will soon die. Likewise, if you don’t provide fertilizer for your hydroponic plants you don’t get any yield. The waste water from the fish tanks at Do Good Farm feed into a sump tank in the greenhouse. Naturally-occurring bacteria breaks down the ammonia in that water to nitrates that are the core of all commercial fertilizers. That water is then circulated into two areas: the hydroponics tanks that grows the veggies and another large tank that’s filled with… duckweed. Yah… duckweed. Anyone who has anything to do with bodies of water in Central Florida will be happy to tell you that duckweed is a pest plant. It grows way too fast and can completely cover over a lake in a matter of a few days. In this case, that’s an advantage. The fish in the aquaculture tank love duckweed! Its an almost-complete food source for the fish and it grows 44 times faster than, say, corn. The duckweed and the other plans suck up the nutrients and nitrates from the water and what comes out at the other end… is clean and can be pumped back into the fish tank again. Using this closed-loop system saves something on the order of 90 percent of the water. Some is lost due to evaporation, but it uses far, far less than normal soil growing and irrigation. Also, it is completely organic. You can’t use chemical pesticides in an aquaculture environment or those chemicals will kill your fish. Pest control is handled by keeping the growing tanks in a simple screened-in greenhouse and by occasional use of predators that will eat any bugs that do manage to get in.
This is Orlando Presbyterian’s second trip out to Do Good Farm. Once there, we split up into three teams. One group was assigned to “pot” seedlings. Not in normal pots, but into rock wool plugs that fit into Styrofoam boards that will float on top of the hydroponics tanks. The boards are then dropped into one end of the tank. 40 or so days later they are harvested from the other end, the plants, now fully grown, are removed from the plug and both the plugs and boards are returned to be refilled and sent through again and again. Our second team was doing a little ditch digging and a third group was assigned to paint a shed on the property. We got a fair amount of work done even through we spent some time cooing over some baby goats who had recently arrived on the property (kids and small animals will always upstage you!). We then descended on Josh’s House Bland Cafe’ to cool off and get some lunch. All in all, a very educational experience!