Former teacher starts aquaponics farm

While local farmers' markets will soon close, many local businesses like 302 Aquaponics are ready for new customers. Doug Wood designed his own 15,000-square-foot greenhouse to grow acres of lettuce and harvest tons of tilapia to share with the community.

About five years ago, Doug decided that while he loved teaching in the Smyrna School District, he really wanted to fulfill a dream. “After the death of my mom, I thought more about my own life and decided to purchase a greenhouse. I just began experimenting with a variety of plants,” he said.

Then Wood took a seminar with Nelson and Pade Company and learned about aquaponics, a food production system that combines aquaculture – raising aquatic animals such as fish – with hydroponics, cultivating plants in liquid nutrient solutions rather than soil.

Wood begins with guppies weighing one gram each and feeds them non-GMO aquaponic food purchased from Purina. As they grow bigger, they are transferred to one of 12 800-gallon tanks, each holding up to 300 fish. Nine months later, they are ready to harvest and are shipped to B&A Seafood in Philadelphia. They process the fish, freeze it and ship it back to Dover. Then Doug and his wife Katie come to the farmer's markets.

First, the lettuce seedlings are placed into a bed of rock wool, a man-made product that looks like a doormat. There are holes in the slender rafts, which are placed in water, and the plants draw up the nitrate through their roots. The lettuce water is pumped back into the fish tanks, and the process begins all over again.

“We were trying to get our products out there,” said Doug, “and then COVID hit us pretty hard. Luckily, we bought a freezer and our own delivery van. People want to shop locally. If you buy lettuce in the store, it’s coming from Arizona or California. Our lettuce is chemical-free from all pesticides and as clean as you’ll get.”

Wood says his biggest clients thus far are school districts such as Caesar Rodney, Smyrna, and Colonial in New Castle. They purchased a million and a half heads of lettuce last year.

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