Fresh off the Farm - Finn & RootsJuly 20, 2016
Most Vermonters will tell you you’re crazy if you think you can find local strawberries before June, but Shawn and Elizabeth Robinson were eating fresh local berries back in February! The Robinsons are the owners, farmers, plumbers, engineers, foresters and fish-breeders at Finn & Roots, a new and super efficient aquaponic farm in Bakersfield, Vermont.
How did two former retail business owners find themselves starting a state-of-the-art aquaponic farm? “We’ve always been interested in agriculture,” Shawn shared, “and knew we wanted to work independently and grow organic food.” Innovative minds, the success of former businesses, and a desire to “figure out a better way” led the Robinsons to research, design and build the ‘Eco-Arc’ - making their dreams a reality.
The Eco-Arc is the building that houses their production. In it, they grow lettuces, herbs, micro-greens, cress, strawberries, peppers, edible flowers..., and Tilapia! The water from the spring-fed fish tanks is filtered out into solids that are composted and spread on the adjacent orchard, and liquids that are intensely nutritious and feed the plants. The system produces barely any waste or runoff. The Arc was built into a south-facing slope to take advantage of the earth’s natural insulation and radiant heat from the floor helps keep the arc at an average temperature of 70 degrees year-round. The additional heat for the Arc comes from the sun, and wood sustainably harvested on the property. To keep the plants healthy, happy and herbicide/pesticide free, good insects and tree frogs were also introduced to the ecosystem. Even bees can visit the Arc through vents installed to keep it cool on hot summer days, attracted to the hanging baskets of flowers that grow over the greens.
Growing clean, organic and sustainable food was of the upmost importance to Shawn and Liz, but finding fry that met these standards was almost impossible. Most tilapia fry have been fed hormones to change their gender to male fish that grow faster. Liz and Shawn found that their only option was to breed and hatch their own fish and feed them a GMO-free diet (along with leftover greens from the harvest). If all goes according to schedule, you’ll be able to buy Finn & Roots tilapia (as well as strawberries and peppers) this fall.
Has all the work been worth the reward? “My favorite experience so far,” said Shawn, ”had been delivering a ‘Chef's Garden’ to a new chef.” The Finn & Roots 'Chef's Garden' contains 12 heads of different kinds of lettuce. “It looks like a floral bouquet – with different colors, textures and leaves. When they open it, they call everyone else in the kitchen over to look. It’s exciting to see how much they appreciate the crunch taste and beauty of the product.”
You can find Finn & Roots product at Chittenden County area co-ops and natural markets as well as Hen of the Wood and Bleu Northeast Seafood. Chef Doug Paine of Bleu will be featuring Finn and Roots lettuce in their VFN Forum dish – read more about that here.