By Tammy Sue Struble
Hans Geissler, founder of Morning Star Fishermen, an aquaponics training and research center located on 10 acres off Old Saint Joe Road, lost a lot of fish last year. Earlier in the year temperatures in the area took a nose dive and the agriculture industry was literally frozen.
“I’m not going to let it happen” again, Geissler exclaimed.
Now he has his green house covered with plastic and has made preventative measures with more insulation and filling cracks.
The nonprofit has more than 110,000 galloons of tank space and a solar-heated green house where tilapia are bred to feed a variety of plant species.
Morning Star’s main focus is education. Students come to learn how to create sustainable farming systems of their own. There are dormitories on site where people can live and study for up to three months. Morning Star offers courses lasting one day to 12 weeks.
In 2010, Geissler said he “Had more students than ever before.” He sees a movement of people wanting more and more to go back to the basics, “especially in this economy,” he stated.
Morning Star is run on a voluntary basis; for more information check his website at www.morningstarfishermen.org.
Tony Martin has been working at Shannon’s Produce in Zephyrhills for a little more than four years now. Hydroponic farming is becoming more popular with growers; Martin estimated that about 10 percent of the vegetables they get from wholesalers is grown hydroponically.
“A lot of peppers, tomatoes, and leaf lettuce are grown hydroponically,” he explained. In fact, Martin was recently planting swiss chard, parsley cilantro, kale, endive, dill and buttercruch lettuce hydroponically on the produce stand’s property.
“I think people are going to start eating healthier. The customers especially like the home grown swiss chard,” he said. They keep asking, and Tony keeps planting, increasing his rows every year for the past few years.
Martin also explained how recycling water helps keep from draining the groundwater; they us a lot of rainwater to irrigate their plants. It is helpful in reducing well water consumption or having to pay for county water.
In January 2010, the area felt a major cold spell, the worst since the 1989 freeze. Even the recent brush with cold air paled in comparison to early 2010.
“This is nothing like last winter!” George Neukom III, owner of Neukom’s Groves in Zephyrhills, said of the recent cold snap. “We hope we hope we don’t have another one like that. However, it is always a little scary to us citrus growers when we see a freeze coming.”
Although the Neukoms believe a little chill is just fine and, actually helps make the citrus a little sweeter.
For the citrus growers in our area of our last cold spell says George Neukom (George III’s father), “We were very fortunate.”