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Date: 2024-05-24 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00005454

Food Production
Aquaponics in USA

Syracuse NY ... Sherrill's Aqua Vita Farms, a pioneer in aquaponics, needs new investors to stay open, founder says


Peter Burgess

Update: Sherrill's Aqua Vita Farms, a pioneer in aquaponics, needs new investors to stay open, founder says


Aqua Vita Farms raises lettuce and green in a water solution that contains nutrients supplied by the waste from the fish it also raises. (Stephen D. Cannerelli / Post-Standard file photo)

For more updates, see interview with Aqua Vita owner Mark Doherty.

Update: The owner of Sherrill's Aqua Vita Farms said today the aquaponics business is running out of money, and needs to find new investors.

Otherwise, Aqua Vita Farms founder Mark Doherty said, he will be forced to close or sell the company that mixes aquaculture, or fish farming, with hydroponics, or raising produce in a water solution.

'There are some heartbreaking decisions that have to be made,' Doherty said today in a press release. 'Since we started two years ago, this business has overcome many hurdles and found an eager market for our produce and seafood. We have customers and a business model that has us making money in the months to come. But we have officially run out of funds, and we are running out of time.'

Doherty's statement said the timing is critical, because he has just 'figured out' how to make money in the business. He said he needs a cash infusion to continue.

'For me, this is about so much more than just a business venture in agriculture. This is about safe, local foods. It's about growing food here in New York. It's about how we are going to feed the world's population in the generations ahead. I'm hopeful some investors out there share my vision, and step forward to help us, or outright buy Aqua Vita Farms. I would rather sell the entire business, at a loss to myself, than allow another setback to the issue of global food security.'

What we reported earlier:

Aqua Vita Farms of Sherrill, a Central New York pioneer in the business of aquaponic farming, has called a news conference for 11 a.m. today to make an 'urgent announcement' on its future.

Owner Mark Doherty declined to specify the nature of the announcement until the news conference. (Note: The news conference was cancelled due to flooding in the area. Doherty issued a news release instead).

Aqua Vita Farms launched in 2011 and has since gained local and national attention for its blending of aquaculture, or fish farming, with hydroponics, which is growing plants in a water solution, without soil.

In the combined practice, waste produced by the fish farming provides nutrients for the plants.

The business was financed with a guaranteed business loan through Oneida Savings Bank that was backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a 2011 letter to The Post-Standard, Jill Harvey, director of the USDA's New York Rural Development Office, wrote:

  • 'It was the USDA's Rural Development entity that assumed the majority risk associated with this financing. It was Rural Development personnel, along with the staff of Oneida Savings Bank, that invested its time shepherding this effort to fruition.'
Doherty began his indoor farming operation in a 13,000-square-foot warehouse space in the former Oneida Ltd. complex at 104 E. Seneca St. in August 2011.

He harvests plants, including lettuce and basil, and distributes them to restaurants in the Syracuse and Utica areas. Customers have included Lemon Grass and Laci's Tapas Bar in Syracuse and Circa in Cazenovia.

At Aqua Vita, four 5,000-gallon fish tanks filled with blue gill (and later with tilapia) provide nutrients for 100-foot long plant beds, where lettuce or basil seedlings float on rafts.

Pumps return the water to the tanks after it has been naturally filtered by the plants, and the process starts over.

Aqua Vita has been the subject of major media interest, including a segment on the British Broadcasting Co.'s Horizons show last year.

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