Follow a Farmer

Want to know what it’s like to start an aquaponics enterprise in Jamaica? Follow some of the farmers who are participating in INMED’s “Increasing Access to Climate-Smart Agriculture” (IACA) program in partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund, United Nations Environmental Programme/Danish Technical University Partnership and Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA).

Support our farmers by donating to INMED Caribbean and sharing their stories with your social network.

Farmer #2: Marcus Sewell

Marcus Sewell is a 33-year-old emerging aquaponics farmer in Spanish Town, St. Catherine. He became interested in aquaponics two years ago when he was surfing YouTube and came across a how-to video on building a home system. It sparked his interest, so he decided to design a system that would feed his family and provide high-quality produce to sell to his community.

After a lot of research, Marcus constructed a float-and-drain aquaponics system with five grow beds, two filters (bio filter and swirl filter), sump tank and fish tank. He planted basil, dill, cilantro, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, parsley, kale, tomato, pepper and arugula in his grow beds.
Marcus describes his journey into the field of aquaponics:

A Natural Fit
“I’ve always loved farming, because I grew up on a farm, but my passion was always for electronics, computers and technology. Farming in Jamaica is traditional, and most farmers don’t use much technology. As I learned more about aquaponics, I realized it would give me the opportunity to introduce technology while using innovation to help produce healthy food.”

Bumps Along the Way
“After constructing a float and drain system, I started having pump problems and saw many fish that I bought die. That was my first taste of failure with the system. It was hard pill to swallow, but as an entrepreneur, I knew it was the first of many learning curves that would come my way.

“My next problem that came along was pests and fungus, which attacked and killed my plants. I had to seek help from my local agriculture extension agent, and that is how I learned ways to get rid of the issue without using any chemicals. I put in a row cover to prevent other troubles that come along with pests. Another problem was sediments that clogged up the pipes and got into the grow bed.

“My system has produced crops, but I haven’t harvested enough to sell, because of the hiccups along the way. A lot of people have doubted my idea, but I am determined to prove to them it works.”

Finding INMED & New Potential
“While searching on YouTube for other people who had tried aquaponics locally, I came across INMED Caribbean. I watched their video and then went on the website to learn more about what the organization does and how I can get involved with them. I had contacted Paul Barrett, and we had a very long discussion over the phone. He encouraged me to get involved with INMED Caribbean’s aquaponics training program, so I signed up.

“My expectation of the program was to gain more in-depth knowledge about aquaponics and how I can scale my home system into a commercial system that can meet the demands of restaurants, caterers, and hotels.”

Building a Support System
“As I’ve gone through the INMED program, I’ve met like-minded people and have started to network with them to share information. I’ve learned about different types of aquaponics systems, system design, types of plants suitable for aquaponics, plant disease, different types of fish, fish disease, and a lot more in-depth topics that I wasn’t able to find easily.

“This training has opened my mind to the next level of how I can create a commercial system for myself as a startup business.”

Next Steps
“The next step for me is to execute what I have learned from my INMED instructors. I have registered my farm name and myself as a farmer. I have started to work on my business pitch deck, so I can seek funding. My next move is to start scouting out areas where I can install a commercial system. I also am working on a material list and getting quotations on materials and labor charges.”

Stay tuned for updates from Marcus!

Farmer #1: Tanesha Wallace

Tanesha Wallace has always loved gardening and decided to combine her passion with her need to generate additional income to help support her mother and younger siblings after her father passed away. Her solution was to build her own home aquaponics farm. For the past year, she has been cultivating an experimental aquaponics system comprised of plastic bins of goldfish and four shelves of vegetable plantings. It has been a labor of love, but it hasn’t been promising as a source of income—that is, until she learned of INMED’s IACA program in Jamaica. After meeting with INMED Caribbean Program Director Paul Barrett and INMED Global Partnerships Director Francesca Laursen, she decided to enroll in INMED’s adaptive agriculture initiative, which seeks to help budding entrepreneurs like Tanesha launch aquaponics enterprises.

Read Tanesha’s diary entries as she embarks on her exciting venture in aquaponics.

I am Tanesha Wallace and I reside in Montego Bay, St. James, Jamaica. I have had an interest in farming from childhood. My siblings and I would take pleasure in planting flowers, peas and corn. I also loved aquatics, and it has been a life-long dream that in my ideal home I would build an aquarium between the master bedroom and bathroom, and my outdoor landscape would consist of a backyard garden, with a stream running into a pond and an arched bridge over it.

In September2016, out of a need to gain better financial stability, I started researching how to grow tilapias to sell. I went to YouTube and saw a clip about aquaponics. I contacted the Rural Agricultural Development Authority to request information about aquaponics and was referred to Paul Barrett of INMED Caribbean. I called Mr. Barrett on the phone, and he invited me to visit the Knockalva Agricultural School in Hanover to view one of INMED’s aquaponics systems. I also invited my sister Shaneka Wallace and friend Shane Henderson to accompany me on the visit, which spiked more interest.

Diary Entry #2—Early December 2016:

I was at home and decided to convert my 5-gallon water jug into a fish tank, after which I bought a 20-gallon water pump, 2 goldfish and aquarium water hose. I then needed grow media and chose to utilize river stones, which were sourced by a friend from a river in his community.

Diary Entry #3—December 30, 2016:

Today, I officially started cycling of my home aquaponics system. It was a joy to see my mini system becoming operational. I planted a strawberry seedling, thyme and garlic. During this time, I added 2 goldfish.

Diary Entry #4—January 13, 2017:

Today, we upgraded the system by constructing a completely new and bigger one consisting of 3 shelves and 3 plastic storage containers that we utilized as grow beds and as the fish tank.

Diary Entry #5—January 17, 2017:         

Time to plant. I added strawberry, scallion, garlic and seedlings of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, pepper and cucumber. I also added 4 more goldfish.

Diary Entry #6—February 12, 2017:

Today, I moved and changed the design of the system from the height of 4 shelves to 2 shelves and changed the location due to excessive sunlight. I also added 3 koi fish and 2 suckermouth catfish to the system.

It has been a trial and error experience. I tried installing a sump tank, which was unsuccessful as I couldn’t get it right because either the fish tank or the sump tank overflowed.

I upgraded the fish tank, which was my deceased father’s toolbox, added 6 tubs and an irrigation set-up to transfer water from the grow beds to the fish tank, with a view to plant more crops.

      

Diary Entry #7—March 23, 2017:

 I added approximately 130 tilapias to the system and moved the ornamental fish to a temporary home.

I’ve lost 2 goldfish, one 1 koi fish and a strawberry, scallion, thyme, garlic, lettuce and cucumber. Based on my observation, I lost the goldfish due to lack of oxygen after turning off the water pump for a night (I didn’t have an air pump at the time), during which algae was very active. The koi fish died during the transition to the smaller tank, which did not have a water pump or air pump at the time. The strawberry, scallion and garlic were lost due to high water saturation. The cucumber was lost due to inaccurate introduction of iron chelate, which caused the vegetable to become burnt. As it relates to the lettuce, I’m still unsure.

Moving forward, my sister and I intend to improve by learning more about aquaponics, gradually adding more beds and incorporating technology, such as a pH reader, thermometer and timer, as well as increasing the data records and possibly producing enough tilapias and crops to sell.

September 15, 2017:

Today is the official launch of INMED’s “Increasing Access to Climate-Smart Agriculture” program in Jamaica. Tanesha and her sister Shaneka are among the first participants in the program and are ready to start their training. Stay tuned for more diary entries as they grow their aquaponics business.