Above, Dan Sadoski, standing next to his plants, is opening a 3,000-square-foot urban aquaponic farm to raise greens and talapia fish in an old warehouse in Toledo’s UpTown neighborhood. At right, the water system to grow plants in Mr. Sadoski’s urban aquaponic farm.
Dan Sadoski’s work-worn fingers glide over a small tray of tiny green plants as he searches for a good example for an impromptu taste test.
“This is almost harvest size,” he says as he snatches up a seedling and plucks off the roots.
Into the mouth it goes.
“That’s basil,” he says. “They’re harvested about that size, and they use it as a garnish or an addition to the dish. And you can see, it’s packing a bit of a punch.”
Photo Gallery: Urban aquaponic farm
Though the leaves are not much bigger than typical clover you might find growing in your lawn, there’s a lot of flavor packed into them.
Roots take shape in an urban aquaponic farm Dan Sadoski has begun in an old warehouse in Uptown.
Mr. Sadoski, an engineer who found success developing software, doesn’t look like a farmer. And the windowless warehouse in Toledo’s UpTown neighborhood that holds his aquaponics business doesn’t look like a place in which one would find an abundance of life.
But there it is. Young sprouts of basil and kohlrabi grow in little black trays. Endive, romaine and butter lettuce share water planting racks with shiso, a leafy herb used in Japanese cuisine. Nearby, tilapia swirl in their tanks, eager for their next meal.
Mr. Sadoski launched his company, called Great Greens LLC, this year to produce high-quality, super fresh greens year round for restaurants and home chefs around Toledo. Freshness and unusual products are the big selling point, but Great Greens’ method also sets the company apart.
Aquaponics marries fish farming with hydroponic gardening — a method of growing plants in water instead of soil — in a symbiotic relationship. The fish provide fertilizer that feeds the plants. The plants clean the water for the fish.
“This system keeps you very honest,” Mr. Sadoski said. “If I used antibiotics on these fish, it would kill the bacteria that feeds the plants. If I used a pesticide or a fertilizer on the plants, I’d kill the fish.”
Mr. Sadoski’s only real inputs are fish food and occasionally minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, which the plants can’t get from the fish.
Basically, the system works like this: Fish produce ammonia as waste. Bacteria is used to turn the ammonia into nitrate. The nitrate is pumped through tubes that hold the plants. The plants suck up the nutrients, filtering the water that is then returned to the fish.
Tom Worley, director of the Ohio State University South Centers in Piketon, said there’s been significant interest in aquaponics in recent years.
“It kind of comes from the whole idea of sustainability — creating both protein in the fish as well as plant food from the plant side of the aquaponics, all in a closed system,” he said. “It has a lot of appeal in terms of sustainable, in terms of local food, in terms of being green. It’s tapped into all of that.”
At right, the water system to grow plants in Dan Sadoski's 3,000 square foot urban aquaponic farm in an old warehouse in the city's Uptown neighborhood.
Mr. Sadoski currently is selling only the tiny greens that are grown traditionally. He hopes to begin selling the hydroponic products within a month. Even with microgreens only, he’s managed to sign on about 10 restaurants as customers. Eventually, he will look to supply 30 to 40 restaurants and a number of independent grocers. He also plans to sell at farmers markets.
“By next spring, we’ll hopefully be producing somewhere between 600 and 900 heads of product a week,” he said.
Mr. Worley said hydroponics and aquaculture are challenging in their own right. Combining the systems raises that level of complexity, creating unique challenges that can be difficult to navigate.
Mr. Sadoski spent nearly nine years researching before moving forward with the idea. He credited Homaro “Omar” Cantu, a high-end Chicago restaurateur and second cousin, with helping him fully develop the idea and process. And though Mr. Sadoski still has his software business, Great Greens isn’t a hobby.
“I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars of my own money into this,” he said. “This has to be a business to work. Now, is it one that’s fun? Yes.”
The hydroponic system looks deceiving simple. It’s just framing wood racks holding large PVC tubes that have small cutouts for plant containers. The current rack has space for about 750 plants, though it will soon be expanded with two more levels to triple that number.
More tilapia will be added. Right now, there are three tanks, each of which can hold about 200 fish. Eventually, Mr. Sadoski’s plans call for 15 tanks, bringing the total to 6,000 fish. As fish mature, they’ll be harvested and sold, with new fish taking their place. Still, greens will make up 80 percent to 90 percent of Mr. Sadoski’s business.
He believes he can reach sales in the low six-figure range as early as next year.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.
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