BALDWIN (WKOW)-- One doesn't usually connect cows and fish to a greenhouse, but the Vrieze family did. Back in 2007 they built a greenhouse across from their Baldwin dairy farm to grow vegetables and raise tilapia and catfish using the energy from their waste manure to create heat.
John Vrieze, Dairy Farmer and co-owner of Future farm says, "We'd considered maybe a cheese plant and some other things, and I just thought something that would complement it and not have to deal with the market realities of milk or have all my eggs in one basket with a milk product, but rather expand into other products that maybe the greenhouse will work better sometimes when milk is low, and vice versa." The greenhouse is fueled with heat and electricity from the dairy farm's manure digester, and water from the milk cooling process.
Pam Vrieze, Customer Service Manager and co-owner of Future Farm says, "It's our total heat here. It heats the facility, and also keeps the temperature of the fish at that consistent temperature." Keeping temperatures consistent is what allows the fish and the greens to grow at a steady rate. "The last row that we've harvested comes to the end and then we plant the new plants, the new babies, in the end, and then as we push down they just grow, and by the time they get down here then they're ready to harvest," says Pam.
In the greenhouse Pam uses a different method of farming called aquaculture to raise the fish and the lettuce and herbs. "The aquaponic part of it is the aquaculture which is the fish combined with the hydroponics, so it's all grown in water and the fish effluent is actually used for the nutrients for the plants. The plant takes what they need, and then the water circulates back to the fish so it's just that continuous circulation," Pam says. So from cow, to digester, to fish, to vegetables; the full circle of farming is completed at the Vrieze farm.
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