When the Holzbergers began learning about aquaponics five years ago, they didn’t realize their interest would blossom into a full-fledged business.
But that’s exactly what happened.
After attending a training session on aquaponics at MorningStar Fisherman in Dade City about four years ago, they began devising their own system at their Lutz home.
“We never stopped building and changing and fixing and growing and learning,” said Dustin Holzberger, who now operates The Urban Food Forest Inc., a business that manufactures and assembles aquaponic systems at 13219 Byrd Drive in Odessa.
The family was aware there was a market for an aquaponic system that was simple and attractive, said Michele Holzberger, his wife and the company’s co-owner. The family experimented with several variations before coming up with systems they decided to manufacture and sell.
“The company then began building systems for people,” Dustin Holzberger said. That’s where their son, Colin, comes in. He installs the systems.
In essence, aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture — raising fish and hydroponics, growing plants without soil.
When the systems are tied together, the fish waste becomes a food source for the plants, which in turn provide a natural filter for the water where the fish live.
The Holzbergers have developed different kinds of aquaponic systems. One, called a mini system, is the shape of the barrel. It has fish on the bottom tier and plants on the top.
Another, called the Green Thumb System, has larger containers, which look more like tubs.
Another variation, which is the largest, is a trough system connected to a fish tank. The company calls this one the Aquaponics Victory Garden, which they say is like having a farmer’s market in your backyard.
“The Urban Food Forest’s vision is to integrate aquaponics into classrooms and backyards of our society, where we can build a food forest, one aquaponic farm at a time,” according to the company’s website.
The Holzbergers, who have three children, grow their own vegetables. They want others to be able to do so as well.
“What we wanted was for every person to have the confidence and the ability to grow some of their own food that is healthy,” Michele Holzberger said.
The systems they manufacture have been appealing, in particular, to schools, she said.
“It’s something they can keep indoors,” she said. “And, it’s something that by incorporating aquaponics in a science class, they can actually forego expensive labs and other teaching materials because this is so rich. It can be plants and roots for younger kids. It can be water chemistry and pH for older students.
“It can be just teaching children where food comes from and how to begin to think about food as something, that normally, throughout history people have grown themselves.”
The systems include graphics that provide information about aquaponics and maintenance instructions for the system.
Word is getting out about the Odessa company.
“We just go an order yesterday from Virginia Tech. They want to put one in their lobby,” Dustin Holzberger said.
The trend toward sustainable practices is growing, and people are interested in growing their own foods, Michele Holzberger said.
“Organic vegetables are so expensive,” she said. “And now, people are eating kale, Swiss chard and greens, instead of vitamins,” she said. “They’re growing their healthy food right in their backyard, and they’re putting it in their salads and smoothies, and they can feel confident that it’s clean and good for them.”
Colin Holzberger, who delivers and sets up the systems, said people want to know what they can grow and how to care for the fish. They also have questions about water chemistry.
Aquaponics offers many advantages, Dustin Holzberger said.
“You’re gardening without weeding, without tilling, without watering. Basically, you took a lot of work out of gardening,” he said. “Yet, you still get the same produce, if not more.”
Besides having the location in Odessa, the company also has an affiliation with Holloway Farm Supply at 3036 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., in Land O’ Lakes.
For more information about aquaponics and The Urban Food Forest, go to TheUrbanFoodForest.com.
WHAT: Aquaponics open house at The Urban Food Forest, 13219 Byrd Drive in Odessa
WHEN: May 31 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Published May 21, 2014
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