Water-efficient farming results in bountiful organic produce for chefs, consumers
GOLETA, Calif. (January 28, 2015) – Sustained Harvest Farms is leading an organic farming movement taking root in Santa Barbara County that uses minimal water and shortens the time bringing crops to market.
The largest commercial aquaponics farm in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Sustained Harvest Farms (SHF) uses nutrient-rich water fed by fish to grow vegetables in greenhouses on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This sustainable farming method allows for most crops to be grown off-season and produce can be harvested as quickly as 30 days. Aquaponics farming uses just 10 percent of the water used in traditional farming.
Founded in 2014 by Miles and Linda Gassaway, and Linda’s son, John Edwards, SHF is supplying its USDA-certified-organic produce to area restaurants, grocery stores and direct to consumers at local farmers’ markets.
“With chefs and consumers placing such a strong emphasis on locally sourced and organic produce, we’re pleased to be able to provide premium-quality crops to the Central Coast,” said Linda Gassaway, co-owner of Sustained Harvest Farms.
The family team decided to open the 12,000-square-foot farm north of Goleta after seeing California endure a record drought. SHF uses just 200 gallons of water per week to feed their crops of specialty greens, lettuces, kale, chard, onions, celery, basil and other herbs.
“Water is scarce and isn’t going to change, so we need to be far more efficient in how we use water,” John Edwards said. “We strongly believe that using an aquaponics environment to grow organic produce is our best chance for sustainability in farming.”
The closed-loop aquaponics system grows the plants in water that is fed from several water tanks totaling 9,000 gallons, stocked with nearly 5,000 koi, comets and catfish. This nutrient-packed water helps the plants grow quickly, allowing SHF to deliver specialty produce to restaurants in about 30 days, less than half the time of traditional farms. SHF plans to sell the full-grown koi fish to local landscape contractors, and the other fish are used strictly to provide nutrients.
SHF uses only non-genetically modified organic seeds to start its seedlings, and the growing process is overseen by Edwards. The plants are suspended in net pots in shallow troughs with water continuously circulating throughout. The greenhouses moderate the temperatures and fans continuously circulate the air. All produce and fish are raised without pesticides, earning USDA organic certification.
As part of SHF’s environmental philosophy, produce will be sold within 100 miles of the farm, from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. The family farm also donates a portion of each month’s harvest to local food banks.
SFH is approved to sell at the Goleta and Gaucho Farmers markets, and looks to add additional Farmers Markets within the region, including Santa Barbara and Ventura farmers market. It also has contracts with high-profile chefs from top-ranked restaurants in the area. This initial success has led Sustained Harvest Farms to expand its growing operations by 2,000 square feet to keep up with the anticipated demand.
The company’s founders see aquaponics as the future of farming, especially in urban areas where smaller-scale systems can be set up for homes, schools and businesses.
“We made a conscious choice to do something that we believe will be self-sustaining, and an important component to the future for our children, grandchildren and our local communities,” said longtime Ventura resident Linda Gassaway. “I love growing produce. We’re the happiest when we get to grow beautiful, delicious produce for people who are equally happy to cook and create with it.”