Dirt Free Farming: A steadily growing industry for steadily growing food

James Miller from Blackberry Pond Farm out of Martin, TN started dabbling in the art of dirt free farming using a variety of aquaponic and hydroponic growing mediums in several greenhouses on their farm in Northwest Tennessee since 2016. They grow a variety of leafy greens, including micro greens, kale, beet greens, sorrel, swiss chard, arugula, bok choy, and spinach, as well as a variety of herbs and fruits such as strawberries and tomatoes.

Mr. and Mrs Miller have a very integrated set up,” stated Luke Winters, LFN Research and Evaluation Intern, “I was very impressed by the innovations that Mr. Miller has created to aid his operations.

Why Hydroponics?
Hydroponic farming offers a number of benefits to farmers and local consumers:
• Superior taste, quality, appearance, uniformity and extended shelf life of vegetables
• Less water and less fertilizer are needed compared to outdoor farming
• Pests are easier to manage with biological controls, such as beneficial insects, reducing the need for pesticides
• Plant nutrition is easily controlled within the nutrient tanks to provide a high level of nutrition
• No weeds, no cultivation, no soil-borne diseases
• Higher yields in a shorter period of time
• Controlled environment allows harvest of fresh, local vegetables year-round

Miller hydroponic growing system cultivating spinach, lettuce, kale, sorrel, swiss chard, cilantro and lemon balm.

Hydroponics, simply defined, is the growing of plants without soil in a water and fertilizer solution containing the necessary nutrients for plant growth. It is not a new science. Work in this area was being done by researchers as early as the 1600’s. In the early 1930’s, W.F. Gericke, of the University of California, did laboratory experiments in plant nutrition for the commercial scale. The word “hydroponics” was derived from two Greek words, “hydra“, meaning water and “ponos“, meaning labor, or literally, water working.

Why Aquaponics?
Aquaponic farming also offers a number of benefits to farmers and local consumers:
• Environmentally responsible with low water usage and low power usage.
• The primary inputs to the system are Fish food and water.
• Little to no Chemical usage. Aquaponics requires no synthetic fertilizers and few pesticides.
• Many of the plants that thrive in Aquaponic growing are very easy to grow.
• Low susceptibility to pests and diseases
• Timely crop turn around

Miller aquaponic growing systems cultivating cabbage, lettuce, parsley, strawberries and lavender.

Aquaponics is a farming method that combines the benefits of aquaculture and hydroponics. A nitrifying bacteria convert the wastes that fish produce into nitrogen which then serves as an organic nutrient source for the plants through their roots. The water passes through a hydroponic plant growing medium for filtration then recirculated back into the fish tank for reuse. With a natural ecosystem that recycles water continuously, an aquaponics system uses 90% less water versus traditional farming. Additionally, the system is self-sustaining which requires low maintenance and zero pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides.

Aquaponics systems are sustainable and environment-friendly, as there are no toxic wastes and run-offs from chemicals. Ultimately, aquaponics systems can help food growers maximize food yield. This is possible by harvesting both fish for a protein source and fresh plant produce.
• Increased crop production per square foot versus traditional farming
• Multiple crops and fish can be grown from the same system
• Fish can be harvested as an additional food or revenue source

We are continually trying out new ways to improve our systems,” says James Miller, owner of Blackberry Pond Farm,” so we can provide the community with consistent production in order to sell to restaurants and institutions.” The Miller family sells their products at the Martin Farmers Market during the market season and directly from their farm. You can contact the Millers via their Facebook page, by phone(731) 587-5336 or email millerdad66 at gmail.com.