Aquaponics Farm Brings Sustainable Eats to Calgary’s Restaurants

Calgary’s a land-locked, arid region with a chilly clime — not exactly suited to raising fish or growing leafy greens. But a new sustainable farm is supplying some of the city’s top restaurants by doing just that.

Paul Shumlich is one of the founders of Deepwater Farms, a 10,000-sq.-ft. aquaponics facility in southeast Calgary.

“It’s the combination of aquaculture, which is the raising of fish, and hydroponics, which is the soilless growing of plants,” Shumlich explained.

“Combined we’re able to create a closed system that’s symbiotic, where we feed the fish, and the fish provide us with waste that we can convert into plant fertilizers … we’re actually providing a better environment for plants to grow faster, use less water [and] the end result is a tastier plant.”

Deepwater Farms raises 900 kilograms of Australian sea bass (or barramundi) every month. The waste is broken down with micro-organisms to create nitrates that fertilize the more than a million seedlings grown less than every two weeks under LED lights in the facility.

The fish and greens — baby kale, arugula, watercress, red pac choi, mustard greens — are then packaged in the facility and delivered to local customers.

The plants require no pesticides, the fish are free from pollutants and all of the water used is recycled back into the closed-loop system.

It also grows faster than traditionally-grown produce — but everything requires close monitoring to ensure the system is balanced and working perfectly.

Shumlich, who studied entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University, said the project started in his backyard where he tested out the technology.

“It started as a desire to know where our food’s grown, who’s growing it and how we can get involved,” he said.

“Because we’re growing it locally … the plants retain nutrients better than being trucked in from California or Mexico.”

While he was a student, Shumlich said he started cold-calling restaurants to see if there was interest in his plan — and there sure was.

“They really do like local and they wanted to support us in whatever way they could,” he said of the local restaurant community.

The fish and produce are being served around the city, at restaurants like Model Milk, Ten Foot Henry, Briggs, Shokunin and Yellow Door Bistro.

The products are also sold directly to Calgarians at spots like Billingsgate Fish Market and Cherry Pit at the Calgary Farmer’s Market.

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