Revolution Farms challenges traditional agriculture methods with aquaponics farming

Revolution Farms, located on 76th street in Caledonia, is the second largest aquaponics farm in the United States. Just last month, the farm harvested its very first crop of produce, and on average will harvest 350,000 pounds of produce a year, with a focus on salad greens.

Initially, the company distributed their salad greens to 16 different SpartanNash stores; however, they now distribute to all 82 stores across Michigan, which include D&W, Family Fare, and VG’s.

Revolution Farms founder and CEO Tripp Frey explains that the two long-term, positive impacts of aquaponic farming are its sustainability and overall quality of product.

Essentially, aquaponic farming consists of growing produce in nutrient-rich water instead of soil and uses aquaculture, the breeding of underwater animals, to supply the nutrients for the water. Revolution Farms specifically breeds tilapia and filters out their naturally produced fertilizer, which is then used to saturate the foot-high pool of water in the greenhouse in which the vegetables are grown.

“When I talk about sustainability, the policy of environmental impact, this farm uses 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture,” says Frey. Additionally, “There’s nothing unnatural in our system because we have to have the fish and the plants survive together. So any kind of synthetic fertilizer or chemical could potentially be dangerous to both of our living organisms and our ecosystem that we’ve created.”

The facility is also 85,000 square feet, about an acre of land, whereas more common forms of agriculture such as field growing can use up to 30 acres of land to produce the same amount of crops.

Another benefit of Revolution Farms is its means to distribute salad greens locally. Generally, most of Michigan’s salad greens are imported from California and Arizona. The biggest issue with this long-distance sourcing is the time between harvesting and their actual arrival on Michigan’s grocery shelves.

“By the time it’s even on the rack, or the shelf of the store, it’s seven or more days old already,” says Frey. “So our goal is to get it on the shelf within a couple of days of being harvested.”

“And there’s a lot of evidence that the more fresher produce equals more nutritious produce, so those are kind of big advantages for the consumer. But obviously by supporting us, you’re supporting local community and supporting jobs.”

Although hydroponics is not the most popular method of farming, it is gaining more traction than before, especially since the practice is still developing new efficiencies. Frey reasons that because places like California and Arizona naturally have useful growing environments and have been reliable supply chains of greens, “No one ever challenged the assumption of us growing it under one person and trucking it around the country.”

“Aquaponics is definitely pushing the envelope here. There are more and more folks growing produce in greenhouses. The whole movement is about the decentralization of our food. Instead of having all of our ingredients come from California, we should be growing it locally around the country, year-round, in greenhouses or buildings, and giving our consumers fresher, healthier food.”

Images courtesy of Revolution Farms.
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