Aquaponics No Ka 'Oi, established in 2010. A small Mom & Pop backyard urban farm in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii. Less than 3 food miles (less than 15 minutes) to the markets in Kahului and Wailuku. Guaranteed fresh. Local. Certified Organic. Non-GMO. No chemical pesticides. Dust and small insects do sometimes manage to get through the netting, so it's always a good idea to wash all produce before eating.
Our Lettuce Mix consists of Certified Organic Red and Green Butterheads, and Certified Red and Green Oakleaf lettuce heads. Depending on the weight, we might not be able to get all four varieties into one bag, but we'll try.
The Red Oakleaf has been called an Antioxidant Superstar by http://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/red-oak-leaf-lettuce.php
If you don't see it in the produce section of your market, please ask for it.
In the past, we've offered our Certified Organic Butterhead Lettuce such as,
and we may offer this again some day, but to avoid mono cropping too much, and to offer a more nutritious lettuce mix, we've begun to offer more variety and color.
Here's what our covered growing troughs look like. As you can see, birds, animals, and most insects are kept out.
Feed the Fish, and the Fish feed the Plants. As most of you know, in aquaponics, the fish wastes provide most of the fertilizer for the plants. The fish wastes in the form of ammonia are broken down by nitrifying bacteria (nitrosomonas, nitrobacter, nitrospira which convert ammonia to nitrites, and then to nitrates, plant food), gammarus (detritivores which eat fish waste solids and decaying organic matter to break down the micronutrients minerals for easier plant uptake). Sometimes compost (red) worms are used in the cinder based biofilters to add worm castings to the nutrient mix. Unlike hydroponic water, aquaponic water is alive with diverse micro-organisms. Therefore, deadly chemicals cannot be used for fear of harming the fish or the microbes.
Aquaponic water thus contains the Four Principal Components of Soil: Air, Water, Organic Matter, and Mineral Matter, although not the Texture (sand, silt, and clay) and Particle Sizes of dirt. The plant roots in turn, absorb the nutrients from the water, cleansing and filtering it to recycle the water back to the fish. On our farm, aquaponic water, excess fish wastes, and chicken manure help to replenish the soil microbes outside of our aquaponics system.
We sell vegetables, not fish, but the fish play a very important role in this ecosystem, and sometimes they get too big or too many, and need to be culled to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. This provides another food source to the community for those that like tilapia. This particular breed of fish (Oreochromis niloticus, the White Nile tilapia) is self-perpetuating. In 2011, we started with 5 white tilapia, and had a hatch of about 3,000 fry. Since that time, we have never needed to obtain any more fish for our system. Here is a picture of Kalewalani, a University of Hawaii student who was doing research on aquaponics for a presentation (she got an A!), and helped to cull the system and take food home for her family to try (see Talk Story for more on her).
Why is an organic farm in the center of Kahului such a big deal?
Well, look at it from my perspective. I was raised in an Upper Paia sugar plantation camp called Nashiwa Village, close to Paia School, just below the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. This was a thriving community back in the 1940's & '50's. We used a 4-door outhouse that shared a cesspool with 4 neighbors on the 4-corners of the lots. Open grey water ditches ran between houses, our drinking water system used a Bull Durham tobacco bag over the faucet for a filter and got muddy during rains. The plantation sprayed DDT in the air frequently to control mosquitoes. My Mother used a large metal tub with a wooden paddle over an open fire to wash my Dad's really oily clothes from working as a mechanic in Paia Mill. The plantation owned everything, the house, the land, our healthcare, and even us. The land was fertile, and most everyone had a garden. Fruit trees grew wild everywhere, and there seemed to be no lack of freely accessible food.
Then in 1960 we were enticed by A&B, the plantation owner, to relocate to the 6th increment subdivision of Kahului (currently that older subdivision across Ka'ahumanu Avenue from Maui College) close to the "Dream City" development. The plantation wanted Upper Paia back to grow sugar cane and to cut back on the expense of maintaining the plantation camps. The 6th increment was non-arable land built on sand dunes. The land was offered to us at the affordable price of 25 cents per square foot. What a deal. The 6th increment was scraped of its top layer along with the kiawe trees right down to the bedrock of pure sandstone. I helped my Dad build the house that we currently live in with the help of friends and family. I later found that the pH of the "soil" was 8.4, pure coral sand. I remember helping my Dad try to crush the sandstone with pick and shovel for years to make a plantable top soil. My Dad came from a pineapple sharecrop family in Ulumalu before working at Paia Mill so he wanted to make things grow for food. Solid sandstone is pretty hard stuff, it will bend your digging tools. We also hauled truckloads of dirt and manure from Paia and upcountry to try to make the soil more arable. To some extent we succeeded, but the land has a tendency to go back to its native bedrock, sand, which is also a pH buffer. Plus where we lived, sand was always blowing over the land, creating sand berms and burying the more organic soil that we built up. It was a losing battle. But I never lost my connection to agriculture. I picked pineapple for five summers around my high school years, and I swung a cane knife as a seed cutter in the cane fields of Puna Sugar on the Big Island in the early 70's between attending Hilo College.
Of course there is a lot more to this story, but just let me say that I have never seen this land thrive with abundant plant life until I installed this aquaponics system. I also use the fish water to periodically fertilize my in-ground fruit trees. Between our chickens and the fish, the soil on our land is becoming more organic and microbe rich. I believe that this is the future of small scale urban agriculture as we lose our arable land and water resources. The more people that do this on Maui the better. I see an agricultural cooperative where a lot of smaller urban and traditional farmers will be able to provide for much of the food needs of Maui and decrease our dependence on imported foods. If it can be done in Kahului, it can be done anywhere.