What are we doing?
We want to develop aquaponics on a commercial scale.
Aquaponics works really well at backyard and farmers' market size. However, there haven't been any successful translations of this technology to a commercial scale. We want to combine lessons from small-scale aquaponics and our own research and farming backgrounds to develop an aquaponic system that is healthy, productive, and financially viable. These systems will be able to support a family full-time and replace the dirty fish and vegetable farming that fills our markets today.
Most freshwater fish can grow in aquaponics. We've chosen to grow sturgeon and make premium organic, humanely-farmed caviar. This can seem frivolous but it serves three important functions: It relieves dire poaching pressure on wild sturgeon populations. It proves that aquaponics can grow high-quality fish. And finally, it gives us a solid pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that will help us get the capital and the time we need to develop a really good system.
Our caviar will be certified EU organic, humanely harvested by laparoscope, and positioned for the top of the world caviar markets. We will also grow organic and food safety-certified vegetables for the regional market in northern Florida. Vegetable sales will provide crucial positive cash flow during our four-year wait before the sturgeons’ first spawning. This keeps our investment cash needs low so that we don't have to give up control of the company to venture capital.
Who are we?
Werner Collante and Sarah Kendall Taber are biologists currently at the University of Florida. Werner brings over twenty years of experience in plant and animal husbandry and research, including working with the very first sturgeon aquaculture research in the United States in 1988. He also spent four years growing and marketing specialty mushrooms and vegetables out of greenhouses and clean rooms he built himself. Sarah is a plant doctor-- as in veterinarian for crops (witch doctor is a rewarding but altogether different career path). She brings specialized training in biological pest and disease management from her ten years in research and consulting for organic tropical agriculture.
When is this all happening?
We will run a pilot scale version starting in the summer of 2013. This is how we'll determine the type of temperature control needed for the full-scale system, as this will influence the design of the full scale. We are seeking $100,000 for this phase.
Once the pilot scale is completed we will make the next fundraising round, for $500,000 to $1 million, in spring of 2014. Construction of the full-scale system will follow. The full-scale system will begin at 38,000 square feet of greenhouse and expand annually to keep up with growth of the fish. We will raise a third round of funding ($500,000 to $1 million again) to build a harvest clinic and recovery area in 2016 to prepare for the first caviar harvest in 2017. At the time of first caviar harvest we expect about 140,000 square feet (a little over three acres) of greenhouse space.
Where is this going on?
Our farm is located in Columbia County, Florida near High Springs. High Springs is a bustling springs resort town over a century old. Attractions include world-class cave diving and Florida’s famous crystal springs complete with manatees, otters, alligators, and other wildlife. Being near the beaten path for ecotourism in an already tourism-heavy state means that we can easily expand into eco-conscious food destination (“wine-trail”) tourism if desired.
Our county has very high poverty outside the springs resort areas-- for example, about 40% of the county's housing stock is trailers. Our operation will bring both high-quality white-collar jobs and accessible operations jobs to Columbia County.
Why? Because we think we can do a lot of good and completely turn over the way the world grows food. Here’s how.