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Chicago nb. 5: Metro Farms aquaponics

Napisano: 12. 05. 2016 20:20

by: dr. Maja Turnsek Hancic

The second day after my arrival at Chicago I was eager to dive deep into the Chicago urban farming scene - and the tour at the Metropolitan Farms was a perfect start – both because of what was there to see and because of who I’ve met.

Ben and Eugene Metro farms aquaponics

Metropolitan Farms have been set up by two life-long friends:  Eugene Shockey Funke and Ben Kant. I talked to Eugene, who is great at sharing his passion and talking to people (I am not sure whether that’s the English major in him or just the American friendliness).

What I found funny at the beginning, was that Eugene was surprised that I was a woman – he was one of the rare people admitting that he expected a guy (don’t they all).

Their farm was finalized in 2015, with the system in full operation for 6 months.  They started with the idea five years ago. One of important steps in their beginnings was that Ben attended some competition for innovative business ideas and got to second place. This gave them further confidence (my, does this sound familiar from our own experience!).

aquaponics tilapia

The system is designed by Nelson and Pade and they assembeled it them selves. An interesting customer support that Nelson and Pade provided before Ben and Eugene began, was to give them samples from produce from their own farm so that Ben and Eugene could test the market and the response from chefs and others they planned in their business model.  Before they started, they also took the hands-on learning at courses at the Nelson and Pade’s farm.

Quick facts on the Metropolitan Farms aquaponics system

Aquaculture size

4 x 30 hl  + fish nurseries

Growth surface

215 m2 DWC + 90 m2 NFT + plant nurseries

Type of the system

DWC and NFT

Type

Greenhouse

Type of fish

Tilapia

Type of greens

Basil, different varieties of lettuce, kale, chards, mustard greens, sage

The greenhouse is 1000 m2. Originally, they planned an existing building for the fish and to have only greens in the greenhouse – but because of the fire code in Chicago they were not able to do that. So the fish are now in the greenhouse.  The overall system is about 830 hl, with the fish tanks about 30 hl each. They also have a nursery where they grow out baby fish.  

They produce whole year, heating on natural gas and using lights in the winter.  They did not have specific problems with pests, they only had to fight of powdery mildew in some small parts of the greenhouse.

aquaponic Monte Carlo Romaine

They grow mostly basil, lettuces, kale, chard. They really like the growth of Monte Carlo Romaine – a lettuce that is used here for the Ceasar’s salat.  To add the variety, they also grow some other herbs and interesting plants like mustard greens. I said that I wasn’t familiar with it and Ben was a joker: he gave me a great big chunk to chew. I was expecting a lettuce-like taste but:  it tastes similar to horse radish or wasabi! I bought a big portion of it and it really makes a salad taste much better and full.

Right now the fish output is about 180 kg of fish. The vegetable output varies from plant to plant; basil for example currently provides about 30 kg/week out of one DWC channel.

Metro Farms aquaponics sage mustard greens

They sell their produce at small grocery shops, the farmers  markets and to retail. They are not allowed to process their fish, so they sell it whole.  One of their buyers is a great store in the nearby neighborhood: Carnivore. I went there and bought the Metro Farms’ tilapia – it was delicious! And I was really amazed by the Carnivore – a store that sells only sustainably produced food, specializing in meat and fish.  

Carnivore and Metro Farms also organized a barbecue, inviting people to eat fish and greens and have a tour around the farm and just to hang out.  I wish I can go to one of them – because these guys are great to hang out with. J

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