Attending the 2011 Aquaponics Conference

Murray Hallam addressing the 2011 Aquaponics Association meeting held in Orlando Florida

Its a long 16,000 kilometer flight from Brisbane Australia, but we finally made it with Murray Hallam to Orlando Florida to attend the 2011 Aquaponics Association Conference. The three day event organized by Sylvia Bernstein and Gina Cavaliero was originally meant to attract around 100 people interested in learning more about Aquaponics.
That figure quickly doubled to make it a truly international event with around 255 people packing the ballroom of the Holiday Inn at Disney World.

Small Scale Commercial Aquaponics

The theme that we quickly got from attending the conference was the developing interest in small scale commercial aquaponics.

People packed various workshops to hear talks and watch numerous power-point presentations on growing and marketing your own produce and how to earn a dollar from it.

If there was any doubt in your mind that aquaponics had a future as a viable small commercial enterprise, all doubt was removed when speaking to attendees at the conference.

People wanted to start their own small scale systems. Most were small businesses, the mom and dad type people looking to make the transition into a commercial  floating raft systems powered by Tilapia.

Most people attending the event were of course Americans and had already sourced interest from various Farmers Markets and Restaurants in their local community. Established food businesses were already eager to jump in on the “localization industry” and were keen to market and sell locally grown fresh food free from chemicals and pesticides.  More Americans were keen on eating clean food free of pollutants. Aquaponics fits very nicely into that equation so its a no brainer why people were fired up and ready to learn more.

Gina Cavaliero is expanding her 1,000 square foot floating raft system to cater for demand

A year ago Gina Cavaliero and her partner Tonya Penick, victims of the economic building contraction in the US, decided to build their own 1000 square foot commercial system after attending a workshop run by Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii. Today they are growing a variety of green lettuce all powered by Tilapia on their farm called Green Acres Organics outside Brooksville Florida.

“We’ve developed a niche market.” explains Gina. “We don’t have to sell to the big grocery store chains. We sell right to the end user which are chefs clamoring for our product.”

Green Acre Organics have also created a buying club in their community to supply food to people on subscription.

“Right now,” says Gina, “We’re in the black. We have the clientele, we have the demand. We can’t keep up with the demand.”

Murray Hallam and the power of aquaponics celebrity

Keynote speaker Murray Hallam

Sylvia Bernstein the organizer of the event wanted something light and entertaining for the audience to listen to on the Sunday evening so who better to entertain the audience than Murray Hallam. The audience had already had a grueling all day session being focused on Aquaponics so a moment of light frivolity was needed.

Murray being ever so obliging had many stories  lined up to entertain the crowd – mainly of his failures. An audience can always relate to accidents gone bad and Murray was happy to oblige, rattling off a list of experiments and fish kills gone bad that kept everyone amused and laughing.

We decide to create this YouTube clip showing a montage of bloopers by Murray from his recent Aquaponics DVDs to Introduce him to the audience. Fish are notoriously slippery and have a tendency to wriggle and leap out of your hands – just when you want to show them to the camera.

Check out the clip below.

Someone in the audience yelled out “We love you Murray!” to which Murray would snap back, “A heckler! Security – throw that man out!”

And so it went until the auction. Murray was to auction off a aquaponics system and greenhouse. I’m not sure if the reserve was met but someone yelled out for a $5 contribution from everyone to assist the formation of the Aquaponics Association. People dug generously into their wallets and by the nights end the table in front of Murray Hallam was piled up with American dollars. The next day it was announced the donations had amounted to $2,237!

Aquaponics Association Conference Orlando Florida 2011

The Aquaponics Association

The following day was the official formation of the Aquaponics Association with various chapters created in the United States, Australia and the rest of the World. Gina Cavaliero was elected Aquaponics Association Chairman, with Sylvia Bernstein elected as US Chapter Chair. Murray Hallam was elected by the 255 members as Australian Chapter Chairmen. Charlie Price from Aquaponics UK was elected Chairman of the Chapter at Large covering the rest of the world.

Dues were calculated at $1 for the reminder of the year rising to $45 per annum next year.

We caught up with Sylvia Bernstein to find out what benefits membership to the Aquaponics Association would attract and recorded this 6 minute interview between her and Murray Hallam.

Murray Hallam speaks to Sylvia Bernstein about her company, her new book and the formation of the Aquaponics Association and the benefits to members who join the association. 6 minutes mp3 file

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Aquaponics Field Trips

One of the highlights in attending a conference like this were the number of different aquaponics systems you could visit and take a closer look at.  Fortunately Orlando has a cluster of of systems nearby. A visit to the Green Sky  Growers Roof garden was certainly a highlight when it comes to seeing how to grow fish intensively.

Tilapia grown at high stocking densities

Three large tanks stocked tilapia at extremely high stocking densities. Imagine growing fish at 1 pound per gallon of water? This is not for the feint hearted either, as the water is heavily oxygenated with injected liquid oxygen to keep the fish alive.

Oxygen was sourced relatively cheaply we were told – courtesy of the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. Fish waste was eliminated with an expensive drum filter which was designed to trap solids as small as 60 microns. A human hair is about 100 microns.

The event was very well put together and participants to the conference all praised the efforts of the organizing committee. Next year’s Aquaponics Association Conference will even be bigger and better. We hope to feature some of the speakers in future blog posts.