Fish farming combined with vegetable garden creates a sustainable source of healthy food

Dade City nonprofit teaches fish farming

DADE CITY - Inside a Dade City greenhouse surrounded by stately oaks are produce aisles to rival any upscale grocery store.

"This is watercress," said Phil Reasons, a cheerful man with a trim beard and a striking resemblance to actor Dennis Hopper.

"It's a great cash crop. Restaurants love this to put in their designer salads".

Phil Reasons is a farmer overseeing rows of kale, cabbage, carrots and herbs with root systems that are fed by a slowly circulating river of nutrient rich water. As executive director of Morningstar Fishermen, he's also a fisherman who doesn't have to go far to catch one of the thousands of hardy Tilapia kept in tanks under the same roof as the greens.

"The fish are so fresh and so natural, the taste is amazing. And we don't have to worry about what went into raising them," Reasons said.

For over 20 years, Morningstar Fishermen has been researching and developing ways to raise fish without the water-polluting waste of traditional fish farming and to raise produce without the chemical fertilizers often used in hydroponic farming.

"We've taken those two problems and eradicated them by putting the two cultures together. So now the effluent from one can become the fertilizer for the other, so it's a perfect marriage as far as we're concerned," said Reasons.

People come from around the world to learn Morningstar's farming and fishing techniques. About half of them are with aid organizations aiming to provide badly needed vegetables and protein for impoverished people in the third world. Reasons touts a new facility they helped set up in West Africa that supplements the poor and starchy diet of some 250 people a day. The cost to run and maintain the facility, just $20 dollars a day.
 
Other visitors who may stay in dormitories on-site for courses that run up to three months are hoping to build or improve their own commercial aquaponic systems. While a growing number just want to a reliable source of food for their own family and neighbors.

Reasons points out an above ground swimming pool of the kind you can buy at Walmart for a couple hundred dollars. It's stocked with hundreds of meaty looking fish and is piped into an adjacent row of vegetables quietly feasting on the regular production of fish waste.

Morningstar's mission statement is a version of an old aphorism: "Give a man a fish he eats for one day. Train a man to raise fish and grow vegetables and the whole community eats for a lifetime."

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