Aquaponics is a sustainable system of food production that combines the natural technique of aquaculture with the technique of cultivating plants in water in a symbiotic environment. 312 Aquaponics, based in Chicago, Illinois, designs custom aquaponic solutions to meet the critical needs of individuals, institutions, and organizations large and small. Mario Spatafora from 312 Aquaponics talks to Ek Titli.
1) Tell us about 312 Aquaponics.
312 Aquaponics is a company I co-founded with three of my friends from college after we graduated in 2009-2010. We run an indoor urban farm utilizing aquaponics to raise fish and plants in a recirculating system. Currently, we grow and market specialty micro-greens and baby leaf salad mixes to local restaurants. Aside from food sales, we also offer educational field trips, training courses and project-by-project consulting. We’re located in what used to be an abandoned factory on Chicago’s south side in the Back of the Yards neighbourhood. The company was officially formed in July 2010 and our system went live in August 2010. Right now we are working with Chicago to be the first urban farm licensed and regulated by city departments–an important step in legitimizing the industry.
2) What inspired the inception of Aquaponics?
People have been farming aquaponically for thousands of years. The inspiration comes from mimicking nature to create a balanced ecosystem capable of sustainable and explosive growth. For us, it started in college when one of my business partners built a small unit in his apartment and was amazed at the results. That experience led us to volunteer under the guidance of Myles Harston, an aquaponics guru from Illinois. He taught us everything we needed to know to get a commercial operation underway. We then obtained private capital from an angel investor to fund our business start-up.
3) Tell us about the team at 312 Aquaponics.
There are four principals in 312 Aquaponics. I handle most of the administrative duties like accounting and finance. Brian is our operations manager who runs the farm activities. Andrew is our resident biologist and marketing specialist–he manages the system chemistry and also does the outward sales and marketing. Arash is the president and handles the long-term strategy and planning. He also designed and engineered our prototype model. On the investor side, we have an angel investor from our home town who was willing to take a chance on our concept. We also have a great board of advisers covering professions from legal to real estate people that have properties, houses, or burnaby homes for sale.
4) What have been the major achievements (with respect to sustainable farming facilities) of 312 Aquaponics?
Our first major achievement was building an operational prototype with the resources we had at hand and coming in under budget. By saving money on the initial build, we were able to invest more into future innovations as we thought of them. We also achieved sales in 2011 although in our projections to the investor we predicted none. We’ve made some strides in new aquaponic technologies.
5) What are your future plans with Aquaponics?
We hope to expand beyond our current space and into our own facility. Eventually we’d like to be considered the pioneers of urban aquaponics–not only for growing the best quality food, but also for pioneering new technologies and training/educating the masses about aquaponics. It’s also important to remember that there are many places in the world that can benefit from aquaponic applications. We would one day like to have an international presence and be able to help developing nations.
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Author: Mansi Bagga
Mansi Bagga is an MBA student, pursuing a course in Communication Management. She is a highly enthusiastic person, always willing to learn more and do more. She is an Indian by origin and a Thai citizen by virtue. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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