Our current business, Natural Green Farms, started out as a joke. My husband was working in sales at the time, and it was not going well. He used to tell the property owner (who owned several buildings in town) that he was going to hang it up and grow fish in the darn building, since nothing else was working. Using an abandoned warehouse across the street, that is exactly what we did.
You raise fish in a warehouse? Yes, we do, and lettuce and herbs as well! Natural Green Farms utilizes aquaponics, a sustainable food production technique, to incorporate fish emulsion as the fertilizer for our lettuce and herb crops. Indoors. This process creates a sort of biological mini-circle that allows the plants and fish develop symbiotically.
The farm is housed in a four-story warehouse, which in the future will allow us to produce more than 4 times the volume of a normal hydroponic farm, and many more times when compared to the typical soil based farm. Being a self-contained dirt less farm limits exposure to diseases, insects and weed infestations. This allows us to raise produce and fish without pesticides or herbicides. Consequentially, there is no fertilizer runoff into local lakes and streams. Lighting and temperatures are controlled for optimum growing year round, regardless of what Mother Nature is doing outside.
Not all fish and vegetables available at your local grocery store are raised in the same optimal conditions. If people could see the difference in environment between our farm and many mass production facilities in, let’s say, China, they would come running to us. When you go to the grocery store to purchase fish, you’re not seeing the whole picture. Unhealthy, polluted water produces fish that are dangerous to eat.
Many of the cheap fish products you buy every day have their origin in such places. Unregulated mass production facilities, using water you wouldn’t dip your hand in for fear of contaminating yourself, would be shut down if people understood the dangers. Our farm provides fresh, healthy fish, lettuce and herbs to local grocery stores and restaurants. The recent rise in oil prices makes local, sustainable farming even more important. We grow for neighborhood distributors, thus cutting out a great deal of the transportation costs that larger producers incur.
Tours and instructional lectures are available at our facility. A good crowd of interested people, and folks looking to buy equipment, usually shows up for tours. A tour takes about 2 hours. We go through the process step-by-step; anyone interested in aquaponics really needs to come to the farm in person to fully understand how it all works.
When we started out, the first thing we did was lots and lots of research. We researched ideas and equipment online, bought tons of books and developed contacts with universities and others that had expertise in this area. It took us nearly 3 years to get everything up and running. We expect our first profit this year.
Starting your own business takes dedication, time and money. You must have the drive to work 7 days a week, sometimes 15 hours a day, to get off the ground. You just make up your mind you’re going to do it, and then do whatever it takes to get it done. If you lack the drive to succeed, it’s not going to happen for you.
Having a little money set aside helps as well. We started out on credit cards. There are grants and loans available to people who are seeking to start environmentally sustainable businesses, but finding funding is difficult. We are currently open to investors as well; see our investor’s page at http://naturalgreenfarms.com/investors.aspx, or check out our Facebook profile for more information. We are also looking for wholesalers from Green Bay to Northern Illinois, so if you want to get involved, there are opportunities for you to build into our business. Aquaponics is the farming wave of the future. Natural Green Farms offers you a chance to catch it now.
Johanna Hearron-Heineman and her husband, Joe, are the owner/operators of Natural Green Farms in Racine, Wisconsin.