Aquaponically speaking...

Authored by: 
Jacob Tuft

Barcus and JacobAquaponics is the buzzword around Kalani these days.  When I moved to Kalani a year ago, I had never even heard of the word, and now, I seem to be the local expert. 

It all started in Kalani’s drive to become more sustainable on this island that currently imports 90% of its consumables.  Gardens to feed the guests, volunteers, and staff that number between one and two hundred at any given meal were an obvious place to put our energy.  There’s only one problem … living on a part of the island that was flowing lava as recently as a hundred years ago, there is very little soil to grow in.  While considering trucking in soil which hardly seemed sustainable, my boss discovered a system of farming being developed in the Virgin Islands that not only did not need soil, but produced fish to eat as well….Aquaponics.

The word AQUAPONICS is a combination of AQUACULTURE which is the raising fish, and HYDROPONICS which is the growing of plants in nutrient filled water instead of soil.  Aquaponics marries these complimentary forms of food production into a stable ecosystem that solves many of the problems that occur when each is practiced independently. 

When I heard Kalani was interested in exploring this new food producing technology, I knew I was the person to do it.  After leaving my engineering profession 4 years ago for the simple island life, I had been missing the challenge of problem solving and experimentation that had been such a part of my every day life on the mainland.   Combined with my knowledge of fish and filter design from working at an aquarium store in my youth with my more recent interest in gardening and sustainability, I began a project that has brought me more joy from creating than I ever felt in my whole engineering career.

AquaponicsI researched ways people were doing Aquaponics locally and on the internet, primarily influenced by Friendly Aquaponics located here on the big island.  It became apparent that the size system required to supply our kitchen’s demand for 900 pounds a month of greens would be a bit risky to jump right into.  We decided on something much smaller to prove the concept and started construction in November.  Due to the thorough training from Friendly Aquaponics as well as the simplicity of the design, things went very smoothly and we had our first harvest in early February.  There is still much experimentation and learning to be done before we stop buying greens for the kitchen, but plans for a first stage of expansion are already underway.

I’d like to acknowledge Barcus Adams, Richard Koob, Stuart Blackburn, and especially Tim Mann and Suzanne Friend at Friendly Aquaponics ( all of whom were instrumental in this project’s success.  Thank you for bringing joy and gratification back into my work life.

Note: You can read more about Jacob's aquaponics adventures at his blog: