Lett-uce provide you with fresh greens: Rapids aquaponics business caters to local schools
By Kris Leonhardt
As part of a five generation cranberry-growing business, Pam Walker has a deep knowledge in growing and harvesting plants. Coupled with her teaching experience, she was ripe for a future in aquaponics.
“I was looking for something that we could apply our agricultural knowledge to, but for a different product,” Walker said, “and I was also intrigued by a different model for agriculture in the 21st Century.”
It took two to three years, for the Walkers to bring the greenhouse from concept to customers, but by 2017 they had Cold Snap up and running.
“This is considered controlled environment farming, because all of it occurs inside of a perimeter that I have control over. I have screens; I have a roof; I can open things or keep things closed,” she explained.
“My footprint is small. It is very sustainable, and we are learning about everything once we think we have control.”
In the closed-loop system, tilapia fish are raised in tanks and provide nourishment in a water system that cycles through a biological filtration method.
“The fish… provide the nutrient base for us; that is our fertilizer. They provide us with all of the nutrients that we need, but when they age out of the system, we also have food that we can harvest as well. That is not the priority – growing fish – it is growing the lettuce.
“In the aquaponic system, what you are relying on is that the fish nutrients will provide growth for the plants,” Walker said, “but if I had fish in the system and no plants it eventually would lead to the fish dying off, because the ammonia concentration would be so high. We pump oxygen into it, and we also have to measure to make sure that the ammonia from the fish is broken into the nitrites and then the nitrates; and then the nitrates are what the plants wick up. “
Cold Snap focuses heavily on romaine lettuce, but is able to provide multiple varieties of lettuce, as well as other produce and herbs.
“Right now, we are selling to school districts and restaurants, and we are just making our way into some smaller grocery stores,” Walker said, in addition to farmers markets and co-ops.
Walker said that the business is capable of expansion, but right now the facilities are manageable for the demand. She said that school districts are focused on fresh, healthy greens, so there is a solid need.
She added that demand increases with the harsh winter weather, “Right now, we are coming into the coldest of the seasons and nobody has lettuce in their gardens, so we have fresh lettuce every day.”
For more information on Cold Snap, visit www.coldsnapaquaponics.com.