Founded in 2012 by longtime friends and colleagues, Adrian Southern and Whelm King, Raincoast Aquaponics (RCA) is located on six acres of land in the rolling hills of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, BC.
More than simply a successful farm in its right, we founded RCA with the broader goal of developing and implementing sustainable food production practices that could inspire and be shared with farmers around the world, particularly in temperate and colder climates. Our primary goals were to adapt tropical aquaponics to work in cooler climates using fish and plant species that thrive in cold water (less than 18°C) and to assess the economic viability of a commercial cold-water system.
When we started, aquaponics had mostly been used in tropical climates, operating at temperatures in the 20-30°C range and typically raising Tilapia (a very resilient warm-water fish). We knew of a few small commercial farms in temperate pacific northwest but even these used standard warm-water systems.
We believed that the system should be designed to best match the local temperature. This meant using a cold-water design for climates that are temperate and colder. This was not only the right direction from a profit perspective as heating air and water to tropical temperatures is very expensive in cold climates, but also the right ethical choice as power use could be drastically reduced.
The only commercial farm we knew of at the time attempting cold-water aquaponics using trout was MLB Aquaponics in Quebec, whose website indicated they were raising rainbow trout and growing Boston Bibb Lettuce.
At the outset, we looked for a fish species that was native to our area (thus adapted to local climate and water conditions), easy to source, with well documented literature on how to raise and care for the species, and that was in high demand thus easy to market. We settled on rainbow trout which grow best at approximately 15°C and met all of our other conditions.
Our system was based on the system developed at the University of the Virgin Islands (see “What is Aquaponics”) along with a careful study of numerous other warm-water systems. Initially, our design was basic and lacked many of the systems and technologies that we now use for redundancy and that are contained in the design in our book.
Aquaponics is a still a young and emerging method of farming and industry. Our farm has been successfully growing vegetables and raising fish for the past five years, and it is in a state of constant evolution, always learning from mistakes and developing a more resilient and sustainable system.
Today, in our single 36’x80’ greenhouse, we produce approximately 30,000 units of produce and 1200 pounds of rainbow trout per year (our current record for largest fish is 8.4 pounds!). The design in our book, which is based on a 36’x120’ greenhouse, has the capacity to produce twice the amount of produce per year.