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Trout & Strawberries: Area farm embraces aquaponics with Working Lands grant

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Posted on May 13, 2013 |
By Xian Chiang-Waren



silas-inside8587.jpg
SILAS DOYLE-BURR, right, is using a $15,000 state grant to develop an aquaponic system to grow strawberries and raise trout at Monkton’s Last Resort Farm, owned by his parents, Eugenie Doyle and Sam Burr. The family is seen here standing in the emptied cow barn that will be used for growing strawberries. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

MONKTON — Trout and strawberries have always been sought-after seasonal treats in Vermont.

Now, Silas Doyle-Burr, 25, of the Last Resort Farm in Monkton is developing an aquaponics system that will support year-round production of up to 2,000 strawberry bushes and 4,500 trout.

An aquaponics food production system combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) and hydroponics (raising plants in water). The trout in Doyle-Burr’s project excrete solid waste but also ammonia, which in turn breaks down into nitrates. The strawberries feed on the nitrates and in turn, purify the water.

“Trout are strongly encouraged by Fish and Wildlife because they’re really a Vermont fish,” Doyle-Burr said. “If they ever escape, that’s a good thing. Trout and strawberries are in incredible demand. The hard part is figuring out how to produce them year-round, especially in the winter.”

A silo has been cut and made into a tank where the trout will live in a thermostatically controlled environment.

“It has to be very cold and very clean water,” Doyle-Burr said. “You need constantly circulating water because trout like flow.”

The water system will run through the barn, where the strawberry bushes will be planted to filter out the toxic waste. The symbiotic relationship between trout and strawberries keep the system running smoothly for both species.

A $15,000 award from the Vermont Working Lands Initiative will finance the project.

In November of last year, the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board announced the release of nearly one million dollars in available funding for entrepreneurial economic development initiatives in food, forestry and agriculture, marking a significant state commitment to Vermont’s working landscape.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and the board announced the first round of “Enterprise Investments” last week. Enterprise Investments are one of three areas of the Working Lands Initiative, with grants ranging from $3,000-$15,000 for new and growing agriculture or forestry-based enterprises.

The board said it had received 191 applications requesting a total of $2.1 million in funding. Of the $1 million in the fund, $220,000 was awarded to 20 projects around the state. The rest of the money will be granted to projects in two other categories — Grants for Service Providers, and Capital and Infrastructure Investment Funds — that will be decided during the board’s May 21 meeting.

Doyle-Burr is one of three Addison County residents to win an Enterprise Investment from the fund. The other two winners were Andrew Bojanowski, who netted $3,000 for improving infrastructure and efficiency at his Middlebury-based shiitake mushroom operation (profiled in the May 9, 2011, Addison Independent); and Ross Conrad of Dancing Bee Gardens in Middlebury, who was awarded $6,000 to build an uninsulated barn for honey production, beekeeping courses and small-scale mushroom growing.

“It was pretty exciting,” Doyle-Burr said.

Doyle-Burr has been experimenting with a variety of new aquaculture initiatives since he came back to Monkton, including the construction of a pond.

Before returning to his family’s certified organic farm, Doyle-Burr studied economics at Skidmore and spent two years after graduating working for agribusiness giants in Beijing and Shanghai.

 “Back then I was thinking finance or something like that. I am no longer going after that path, obviously,” he said with a laugh. “Being away from the farm, I realized how much I enjoyed it. My senior year (at Skidmore) I wrote a thesis on the dairy industry … and I realized that actually I was very interested in farming and that it was really my passion. Being over in China made me realize even more the positive aspects (of farming) and how lucky I was to have grown up in an area like this.”

His time in China also helped plant seeds for future endeavors in more ways than one.

“In Beijing, I worked next to an aquaculture specialist,” Doyle-Burr recalled. “That’s actually where my interest came from. He directed me to aquaculture and from there I just sort of connected my passions.”

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