FoodChain is one of Kentucky’s most innovative nonprofits!
Since 2013, we have been operating KY’s first indoor aquaponics farm in an abandoned bread factory in order to demonstrate how cities can turn underutilized, industrial spaces into food production. Aquaponics is a creative approach to sustainable agriculture where two industries, aquaculture (farming fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) are combined to make the most efficient system!
Our farm is a deep-water recirculating system with 7,000 gallons of water, 500 tilapia, and thousands of plants. The fish waste (ammonia) is converted to plant food (nitrate) by super helpful bacteria (nitrification!). This way fish get clean water that is filtered by the plants and we don’t have to use any chemical, petroleum based fertilizers to grow our super delicious plants! This recirculating water system uses 90% less water than traditional irrigated agriculture. Here’s an awesome video explaining more!
Our farm is special: although we are able to cover 1/3 of our operating costs with the food we produce here, we are also able to do a lot of research and best practice development for other producers! Being a nonprofit frees us up to make resources like our Barrelponics Manual and Microgreen Cost Analysis available to anyone interested in pursuing aquaponics!
Since its inception, FoodChain has been dedicated to showing the links, not just in food systems, but also communities. Our farm is only a part of what is being done in the building we occupy. We share our walls with a craft brewery, a seafood restaurant, a nonprofit incubation hub, a bike co-op, an art studio, coffee roasters, roller derby league, and a bourbon distillery! That’s a lot of community in one spot! We are not an isolated unit: our success is dependent upon all of our neighbors, so that we are able to support each other and grow as symbiotically as possible. The tenants of this building are linked with the knowledge that we are all stronger together, and our goals are to demonstrate increasing resiliency and economic development through partnerships and collaboration.
Our strongest link is to Smithtown Seafood, one of Chef Ouita Michel‘s family of restaurants, to whom we directly sell our tilapia, lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens. We are able to provide them with the freshest fish and greens in Lexington, as well as grow special herbs and microgreens to suit any special that Chef Jonathan Sanning wants to create. This allows us to demonstrate the benefit of mutualistic partnerships between farmers and restaurants while creating market avenues for aquaponic produce.
FoodChain is also able to repurpose the spent grains, a by-product of the brewing process, from West Sixth Brewery. These grains, the major waste product of brewing, are being used as one of the primary elements in our fish feed. This decreases our reliance on commercial- oftentimes unsustainably produced- fish feeds and allows us to show local aquaculture and aquaponics producers an alternative source of nutrition for their fish! In order to create the recipe for this feed we benefit from assistance of the Aquaculture Research Division at Kentucky State University.
We are dedicated to providing a space where people can come experience one of the newest ways to have a sustainable, urban farm. Come check us out for a Saturday tour!
As we grow to include a Teaching and Processing Kitchen as well as a Neighborhood Grocery, we will be serving as a model of both infrastructure and economic development for food hubs throughout Kentucky. Our space will serve as the connection between small rural farmers, urban farms, seconds processing facilities, grocery stores, schools, people suffering from food insecurity, and anyone who wants to learn any or all aspects of food systems.
This is how we demonstrate the small ways each person can be a part of the solution to the growing need for a better food system!