Aquaponic Food Production

Before any of our locations purchase from a supplier, it’s my responsibility to meet them to fully understand their operation. In early December, I received a new supplier request from Charles Wise, Executive Chef at Allegheny College. Usually these requests are for a local farm that would supply the location with a variety of vegetables or meats. However this request was just for basil. As strange as it is to request a supplier specifically for basil, Charles told me that this product is unique because it is grown on an aquaponic farm that raises fish and grows basil simultaneously. Intrigued by this model, I went out and visited Raup Fisheries in Conneautville, PA.

One of the primary reasons I visit potential new suppliers is to ensure that the food we source comes from locations that have incorporated food safety standards into their operations. When I mentioned this to owner and operator Vaughn Raup, he was thrilled to give me a tour of his operation. He first showed me the fish he raises and explained that the water in which they live is the only source of nutrients for the basil he is growing. In an aquaponics system the fish and the plants are in two separate containers but they are a part of the same ecosystem. The fish produce waste that is rich in nutrients and nitrogen. That waste water is channeled to the basil plants that use the nutrients to grow and filter the water of nitrogen that, in high amounts, can be harmful to fish. That filtered water is then directed back to the fish tank and the cycle starts all over again.

Even through we weren’t looking to purchase any fish, Vaughn was nice enough to take me around and explain his fish raising side of the business. He has raised many varieties of fish over the years including Striped Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Tilapia and Koi. During the time of my visit he was raising Tilapia meant for restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown and Koi fish that were to be sold to homeowners and businesses for koi ponds throughout the US. I was shocked to learn that Koi fish are so desired that they were being bought for as much as $400 a fish.

Afterwards, Vaughn showed me the process that he goes through to harvest and package the basil for Allegheny College which I am happy to say most certainly meets our food safety standards.

After I was done touring his operation he offered to let me throw my fishing line into a few of his manmade ponds that he has behind his operation. This is no exaggeration, but I caught 3, 6-8LB stripped bass in less than ½ hour. As great as that was, the real catch of the day for us is Raup Fisheries, which is now an approved supplier for Allegheny College. I look forward to working with them in the future to grow other vegetable and maybe even raise some fish.

Until next time,