Oct. 24—The newest thing on the menu at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, is locally grown aquaponic produce at the salad bar, according to a university press release.
The department began purchasing the produce earlier this month from a small aquaponics business, located in nearby LaPorte, Colo. Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponic and aquaculture growing techniques, where water is recirculated from tilapia fish tanks to hydro beds that grow lettuce and herbs. The plants receive nutrient-rich water, courtesy of the fish tanks. As the plants are fed they provide a bio-filter that removes 97% of the minerals from the water, which allows fresh water to be returned to the fish tanks. Beneficial bacteria provide a natural fertilizer for the plants. This system to able to grow a head of lettuce in eight weeks, regardless of the time of year, the press release said.
The company CSU is purchasing the produce from, Quatrix, operates the full growing cycle in a greenhouse for plants and an adjacent greenhouse for the fish tanks, where the tilapia are raised. The system reduces pest issues and allows the company to grow produce all year, which helps CSU continue to buy locally during the winter. Deon Lategan, director of residential dining, says the department was contacted by the company and then visited the location to get a sense of how the system worked.
"We were thrilled to have such a wonderful resource so close to campus," Lategan says. "Leaving there, I could not stop thinking about what a great idea it was and wanted to be part of it. Living in Colorado, we don't have many opportunities like this where we can buy great sustainable produce year-round produced locally in such an environmentally friedly manner. Once we were able to negotiate the details and reach an agreement, we took a number of our staff out to tour the facility. We wanted to get them enthusiastic about the prospect of getting local, sustainable produce, which would require additional labor to wash and spin the product dry, as opposed to buying it that way. We had enthusiastic buy in from our staff."
Dining initially plans to purchase nine or 10 cases of leaf lettuce, romaine and basil per week. The release stated that plans are in the works for the department to expand purchases in the future, as well as to look into purchasing the tilapia fish.
"We are currently using Lolla Rosa red leaf, Green Oakleaf and romaine lettuces and fresh basil," Lategan says. "[The lettuces] have wonderful tender buttery texture with a great fresh taste. We are considering adding additional products as they are growing to meet our demand. As they prove they can meet our demand, we will continue to grow that segment of our business. It is a win-win for us to have access to such a great sustainable product and to be able to spend our resources locally and support our community"