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NMSU graduates implement aquaponics system

Gardeners and farmers at the Mountain View Market Farm can't stop raving about their secret weapon to conserving 90 percent of the water used by conventional farms.

Plants receiving water from aquaponics systems on MVM Farm.
The two aquaponics systems on the MVM Farm provide water filtered by fish to plants, herbs and vegetables used at the Mountain View Market. (NMSU photo by Jocelyn Apodaca)

The secret is out; aquaponics is an environmentally responsible way to grow vegetables and fish without depleting the water source.

Put simply, aquaponics is aquaculture combined with hydroponics, which is growing plants in water without soil.

New Mexico State University graduates Nicole Fuchs, MVM Farm administrator, and Lori Garton, MVM Farm manager, hosted a workshop Dec. 7 to teach the public how to grow their own vegetables in a sustainable and less labor intensive setting.

"We provide an environment where people can learn really unique specialty skills," Fuchs said. "We value the ability to share our specialty skills with populations that may not have opportunities to learn this type of stuff."

The workshop, located at the MVM Farm on Snow Road in Mesilla, sought to teach new farmers, gardeners and home food growers how to produce vegetables using an urban aquaponics system on a limited water supply. Crops are grown year-round and include but are not limited to watercress, wheatgrass and sprouts.
"We are able to grow crops we wouldn't be able to otherwise, including our rainbow trout," Fuchs said.
The fish produce the fertilizer for the plants while the plants serve as a natural filter for the water. The water recirculates, giving a fresh distribution to the fish.

The 100 trout used for the second aquaponics system were attained from Michael Montoya, director of the Mescalero Apache Tribe Fisheries. The farm also uses goldfish and plecostomus.

"This system can be scaled up or down to benefit anyone's needs," Garton said.

All vegetables and herbs grown in the aquaponics system are harvested, washed, weighed, packaged and distributed through the Mountain View Market Co-op, local restaurants, farm shares and farmers markets.

Garton, a native of Pennsylvania, received her Bachelor's in agriculture in 2008 at NMSU, studying horticulture. She worked on five organic farms before moving onto the MVM Farm.

"I could have gone to one of the schools on the coasts that offered sustainable agriculture, but I wouldn't have gotten the same experience as being in a place that really needs it," Garton said. "I felt fortunate to find an adviser like Dr. Mark Uchanski, who understood what my goals were. I was allowed to basically pick the classes that I thought would be beneficial to me as a small farmer."

Uchanski is an assistant professor in NMSU's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Fuchs received both her bachelor's and master's in sociology from NMSU, adding a collective background to her duties on the farm.

"I don't think NMSU anticipated turning out a sociologist who would become involved in interdisciplinary farming and sociology," Fuchs said.

Many opportunities were offered through Fuchs' sociology master's, including knowledge in public health, women's studies in the hard sciences, education, anthropology, etc.

"Being part of a community where there's an agriculture school has benefited the farm so much," Fuchs said.

The Mountain View Mountain Co-op has monthly workshops at the farm on the first Saturday of the month.