US (CO): South River masters sustainability through aquaponics

David Gann used to grow trout, which was a sustainable venture. Now, he still grows fish, tilapia and freshwater lobsters, which are an integral part of the highly sustainable South River Aquaponics (SRA) operation on a bend in the Umcompahgre River, just south of Montrose. SRA is a growing asset in the food production arena on the Western Slope.

So how do you grow a mushroom? You don’t plant seeds; mushrooms come from spores on other mushrooms. It starts microscopically.
“We extract the spores from a mushroom and move them to a petri dish, which contains nutrients,” Gann said, holding one up. “There, the spores of a mushroom develop their mycelium, which are the stringy-looking vegetative part of the fungus. The mycelium is really nothing more than the nutrient-gathering network for the tiny developing mushroom."

The 14,000 square foot greenhouse at SRA is where the team begins its season developing a better breed of hemp plant and generating bedding plants for many of the hemp growers in the area. By late spring, however, you will see, not hemp, but thousands of herb plants growing in a sort of closed circuit system that has come to be known as aquaponics.

The high sustainability comes from the fact that the aquaponics system is a constantly recycling loop. In SRA’s case, six tanks full of water, tilapia, and freshwater lobsters create waste. The water is given to microbes and worms, who convert the waste to fertilizer, which feeds the plants. The plants filter the water, send it back to the fish and the cycle starts again. Gann says that about 500 gallons of water feeds the whole system for the greenhouse. Lost water is replaced by water from a well on the property.

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