Orange County farmer uses aquaponic farming to grow fruit, veggies

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
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One farmer is using aquaponic farming as a way to save water in the drought and still grow a large amount of fruits and vegetables.

BREA, Calif. (KABC) -- Adam Navidi's daily ritual involves harvesting fresh greens and other vegetables from his farm in Brea and it is how he grows them that's far from routine.

Future Foods Farms is an aquaponic farm, which means the tomatoes, kale, microgreens and even edible flowers don't grow in soil. Instead, the roots sit in water, and the plants are held up by a raft made of recycled Styrofoam shipping containers.

Inside each of the 10 greenhouses on the farm are small pools containing tilapia. The fish produce nutrients that feed the plants organically. The plants absorb those nutrients and also filter the water that goes back into the fish tanks, Navidi said.

Each week, he harvests 1,200 heads of lettuce, 20 trays of microgreens, 20 pounds of leafy greens such as kale and 30 to 60 pounds of other produce, such as tomatoes and squash.

Navidi sees it as a way to produce organic fruits and vegetables in the midst of a severe drought.

"It uses very, very little water. In fact, we produce one head of lettuce with one gallon of water," he said. "Conventional farming, or growing in the soil, takes 10 to 15 gallons of water to produce a head of lettuce."

He said aquaponic farming also takes up less space and there is less evaporation. He has lettuce growing vertically in one greenhouse.

Navidi said the water bill for the nursery that used to sit where his farm is now averaged about $1,200 to $1,600 a month. Future Foods Farms water bill ranges from $140 to $160 per month.

One of the drawbacks though is that the initial start-up cost can get expensive, especially for housing and plumbing.

Navidi said it has cost him about $100,000 since the farm opened five years ago. There are now 10 greenhouses with room for more, which makes Future Foods Farms one of the largest aquaponic farms in California.

Navidi sells to local restaurants through local farmer's markets. He also serves fresh greens daily at his own restaurant called Oceans and Earth in Yorba Linda.

His method of farming is attractive to some customers.

"With the drought situation that's going on in California, I was very impressed with how little water was used," said Lester Purry, a customer at Navidi's restaurant.

Navidi said through aquaponic gardening, plants grow two to three times as fast as they do in soil.

Navidi has opened his farm up to local colleges for research. He also hosts tours and tastings for people interested in learning how to start their own home aquaponic farm.