By Cpl. Millard Stickler, WVNG Public Affiars Office
| West Virginia National Guard | June 6, 2019
Beau Whittington, Patriot Guardens aquaponics specialist, will conduct a three-part aquaponics farming training in June and July at Joint Force Headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., for Guard Members, families and veterans interested in the process. (Photo by Patriot Guardens)
The West Virginia Military Authority’s (WVMA) Patriot Guardens program, a component of the Adjutant General's department, will be hosting a three-part aquaponics training starting on June 19, 2019, at 11a.m. with the Build Your Own Aquaponics System workshop.
This event will be followed up on July 17 at 11 a.m. with Establishing Aquaponics- Introducing Fish. The training will conclude on the 31st of July with Planting Your Aquaponics System.
Aquaponics is a system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.
“Aquaponics is a new way of farming,” said Beau Whittington, an aquaponics specialist with Patriot Guardens.
Whittington said that for West Virginians who may live in an area with rough soil or on land not conducive to gardening, aquaponics has taken soil out of the question.
“With fish you are creating a natural environment,” he said. “The fish produce waste - ammonia, nitrogen and stuff like that - which is toxic to the fish. So the plants filter it and use it to grow.”
Whittington said that the plants use the nutrients from the toxic waste the fish produce and filter it into clean water for the fish just like in nature.
“Basically it's a filter in itself without ever actually having to have one,” he said.
The first workshop will be about building a cost efficient aquaponics system out of materials found in everyday life while the second workshop will focus more on introducing the fish.
“The second workshop will probably be the most important because it is going to go over how to introduce fish into the system so it don’t kill everything,” he said. “It is also going to go into the basics of what fish you can use and what fish I have used. Feeding and maintenance - that sort of thing.”
The third training will focus on introducing the plants. The order is key because without waiting for the fish to produce the toxic waste the plants would drown and die.
Whittington said Patriot Gardens would like to host a fourth event on harvesting.
“The fish can only get so big in there before you take them out and hopefully we will have a fish fry for everyone and do a workshop showing how to clean the aquaponics system and, if you don’t want to clean it, how to kill it,” he said.
Whittington said that he hopes these workshops will get the point across and that the aquaponics system can allow people who live in cities or small plots of land to farm without the big fields and that more people will realize they can farm without the land.
Whittington said that aquaponics hasn’t quite hit its popularity yet within the state of West Virginia and he feels that this has a lot to do with people not realizing the amount of money they can make off of the fish.
“It’s not well known,” he said. “The only fish people think they can eat in West Virginia is going to be trout, that is just what people are brought up thinking.”
Whittington said that once people begin to branch out and start looking at all the variety of stores that sell fresh made in-state produce that it could lead to profit.
“Everyone is kind of coming back to this bases of wanting home grown stuff and I think that people are really liking that sort of thing nowadays,” he said. “There is a huge profit for it if people start doing it small scale and if people migrate to a larger scale I really think it could be a good business.”
Whittington said that the farmers will be able to make money from both selling the plants being produced from the aquaponics system and the fish themselves.
“(The farmers) are going to grow the plants consistently so they are going to have to cycle out plants every few weeks and by the end of the harvest they will have an upwards of about 500 pounds of fish they have to sell,” he said. “The fish are going for four or five dollars a pound. That is a lot of money they are going to make there at the end.”
Whittington said that aquaponics can become a real big deal once people begin to focus in on it more and find the markets for it such as local restaurants that really want local produce and that the farmers will be extremely busy after that.
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