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Local Couple Grow Fresh Produce Through a Unique Process

Photographer / Jubilee Edgell

Most people don’t think of fish as a farmer’s friend, but Lamar Chupp and his wife, Kristine do. The aquatic creatures are an essential component in the practice of aquaponics, the method Chupp uses to produce 400 to 500 heads of leafy greens per week.

The fish raised in his greenhouse not only work for him in supplying nutrients needed to grow lettuce, but they also end up on the tables of families and friends.

“I first heard about aquaponics 10 years ago when I was a tour guide in Colorado,” Chupp says. “One night I got in a conversation with some college students who were there for white water rafting. They were talking about how an aquaponic system only uses 10% of the water that traditional soil farming does and that it strikes a perfect balance through the symbiotic relationship of the fish and produce.

“I was captivated,” he adds. “I thought I’d really like to try it especially since I only owned four acres of land and didn’t have a lot of room to conventionally farm. Eventually, I contacted Purdue University for help and attended a seminar in Kokomo where I learned from the experts.”

After gathering the knowledge, Chupp assembled his aquaponic system. First, he built a 30 by 96-foot greenhouse. Then, some commercial parts were ordered, but most of the operation was built from scratch.

“On one side of the greenhouse, there are four fish tanks. The Blue Tilapia in each tank are in different stages, from fingerling (finger-sized) to two pounds. We harvest 100 mature fish every month,” Chupp says. “The water the fish are raised in is filtered. The ammonia in it is converted to nitrogen before being pumped over to the raised lettuce beds on the other side of the greenhouse. The resulting water is sanitary, food-safe and full of nutrition.”

Each of the three growing tank/beds are lined with vinyl food-grade plastic. Floating on top of the water are foam rafts that house 15 heads of lettuce. The plants start as seeds in peat plugs before being placed in the rafts where their roots dangle down into the water.

“We plant and harvest every Wednesday in a six-week cycle,” Chupp adds. “We grow both red and green leaf varieties of romaine, butterhead, bok choy, swiss chard and kale. Our biggest seller is Batavia. It is crunchy, sweet and sometimes known as French crisp.”

At the present time, produce raised by Alive! Aquaponics is sold in two area shops and the Nappanee Farmers Market. Woodland Variety Store, located at 4133 East County Line Road in Bremen, is owned by the Chupps and sells local produce as well as bulk foods. Maple City Market is in Goshen at 314 South Main Street.

When asked about the future of Alive! Aquaponics, Chupp says, “We aren’t quite at capacity yet, but we’d like to sell fish in the future. And, we’d like to find restaurants to sell our produce to.”

Contact Alive! Aquaponics at 574-646-2054 or visit them at 10388 N 900 W om Nappanee.

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