US (WI): Man creates aquaponic farm by himself

Nestled in the forest off Highway 8 east of Laona sits Wild River Harvests farm. A newly built pole building and greenhouse catch your eye as you come up the driveway, but inside is not what you’d likely expect. “I think it looked like I was a mad scientist in the backyard building a rocket ship. They weren’t sure what to make of the whole thing,” said owner Scott Goode.

Ever since he visited Growing Power in Milwaukee, an aquaponics farm owned by basketball star Will Allen, he’s been hooked on the idea. “For 25, 30 years, I’ve been tied in with minnows and fish, so that part fascinates me. My wife does more of the vegetables and the plants that I do, but just the whole idea that the two can go together in a symbiotic relationship and how well it works out,” said Goode.

When you walk into the greenhouse, you’ll see two large water tanks filled with a fish line on either side of the floor with a pathway in between. “Each of these tanks is 3,000 gallons,” Goode said. Water flows out of PVC piping that comes from a wood platform above.

Up the steps to the platform, you find two layers of raised beds that hold a layer of rocks. Water from the tanks below is pumped up and flows over them. Dozens of planters are overflowing with vegetables ranging from tomatoes and cucumbers to strawberries, and spider plants sit with the bottom inch or so in the water.

This was not Goode’s first attempt. Ten years ago, he built an aquaponic setup only to have it burn down just as he was getting the first plants growing. “I just didn’t have the passion for it after that. It kind of sickened me, but after all these years, I’m back on the kick. This has consumed me lately. Between building the building that we have and the greenhouse, the last year has been all-inclusive with this.”

What makes Goode’s aquaponics farm different from most others you’ll find is the minnows in the tank. While most farms use tilapia for their hardiness and ability to sell them to restaurants once they’re fully grown, Goode is trying out fathead minnows in his tanks.

“Nobody else is doing that in greenhouses because you have to have a certain market for it. It’s not table fair where everyone’s going to be eating them,” he said. “But I’ve had a 25-year relationship with the bait industry. I’ve trapped for some of the bait wholesalers, and they’re all interested to see if I can breed these and raise them. That would save them a trip to either Minnesota or Arkansas to get their bait, so this is kind of an experiment in that sense.”

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