Jamie O’Hern, the owner of Refresh Farms, says she was shocked by what she learned about our agriculture system. Large corporate farms use pesticides, large quantities of water, and hormones; the effect is devastating for both the environment and our personal health. She saw aquaponics as a solution to these problems, so in December 2011, she started Syracuse’s first aquaponics farm.
Aquaponics is an integration of hydroponics and aquaculture, which results in a balanced ecosystem in which nearly all harmful waste and pollution are eliminated. Aquaponic systems use less than 10% the amount of water that is used on traditional soil farms. Jamie’s farm provides several varieties of lettuce, basil, and White Nile Tilapia. Beneficial bacteria convert the fish waste into nutrients for the plants growing on rafts floating in water-filled growbeds.
Not everyone can create their own aquaponic farm to help alleviate food supply issues. However, anyone can support Jamie’s IndieGoGo campaign. Her goal is to raise $19,500 to help the farm grow, diversify, and become more sustainable. Some of the additions include incorporating solar panels, biofuel, and a greenhouse into the current model. The additional funds will also help support research and development.
Because aquaponic farms can be located inside, they are ideal for food deserts and/or areas with contaminated soil. Jamie would like to see community gardens incorporate aquaponic systems. Indoor farms are controlled environments, not beholden to the climate. Currently, Jamie’s butter lettuce is thriving despite the sleet and snow outside. This means that aquaponic farms could potentially grow vegetables and herbs not native to Central New York.
Jamie believes that small, local community gardens and farms are a great way to source food. Unfortunately, they are limited in what they can produce during the upstate NY growing season. For that reason, many small, local farms become the victims of corporate giants. By incorporating aquaponics such farms can increase their supply in a sustainable way and grow year round.
On the Northside, many of the small markets must travel to New York to purchase staple produce which has been imported, especially in the winter. If bok choy, thai basil, lemongrass and water spinach could be grown year round on a large scale locally, it would impact the economy of the Northside. It would also enhance the cultural vibrancy which already exists in the neighborhood cuisine.
Refresh Farm identifies as Syracuse’s first Urban Aquaponic Farm. Thus, Jamie feels an added incentive to succeed. Her farm’s success will prompt others to follow suit. She has learned a lot from other farms in the Central New York area, and she hopes to share her findings with those who want to begin similar endeavors in Syracuse. Supporting Refresh is a way to support a dynamic and positive shift in our city. To donate, visit the IndieGoGo page, and watch the video. The Refresh campaign ends on April 7th.