There is something fishy going on at Lester’s Farm Chalet in St. John’s and it is proving to be one of the most unique and exciting food production ventures currently being developed in our province.
At their site on Pearltown Road, a large-scale commercial aquaponics facility is being built that will support both a tilapia fish farm and a greenhouse. What is aquaponics, you ask? Scientist and manager, Wasiim Kader Bathia is quick to share, “Aquaponics is the world’s most sustainable way of growing food. It maximizes all the resources that you have on hand to produce high quality, healthy food.”
This type of closed-loop system is the first of its kind in the province and one of just a few in the country. While still in the construction stages, the idea is that tilapia, a fresh-water fish, will be farmed onsite. The nutrient rich water from the fish will then be recycled in order to support the growth of vegetables in an attached greenhouse. “In aquaponics, we are basically using all the natural nutrients in the water which are generated by the fish and feeding them to the plants. Then the plants take these nutrients and use them to grow. What is exciting about this growing technique is that we never use any pesticides, it is all natural.” explains Kader Bathia.
There will be six large tanks that will eventually produce up to 300 pounds of tilapia per week. “So the fish that we will sell here will be very fresh, what I like to call premium fresh,” Kader Bathia says, “because, literally, when the customer comes to the farm, the fish will still be alive and so the customer can pick his or her fish and have it frying at home within thirty minutes.” After an intense filtration process, the nutrient rich water is then circulated through the floating vegetable beds where any number of vegetables can be grown. “For example, the system on a weekly basis can produce 1100 heads of lettuce, 3500 bunches of herbs plus more then 150 pounds of basil.” Because it is a warm water system, Kader Bathia reveals, “we are much more flexible in that we can change what we are growing to meet the needs of our customer. So for example, if chefs come to us and say they need specific product then we can grow that for them and we are not limited by growing conditions.”
When it is up and running, the goal is to then begin to offer educational tours to both schools and the general public. “Certainly everyone benefits from taking care of our natural resources and maximizing these resources in a sustainable system. Lester’s Farm has always believed in producing healthy food for people, in looking after the land and in taking care of our resources and so this is why this project was started here.” This self-sustaining system will run year round and is hoping to be producing product by early 2016.