If You Build It, They Will Come

As the title of the post suggests, team Greens & Gills has been hard at work building and installing all of our growing systems.  Before I start posting all of the pictures, I want to take you back over the last number of months…

As you may have read in the previous blog post, we made a decision to scale back and lease space at The Plant.  Over the last month or so, we’ve been installing systems, but it took us what seemed like forever to get to that point.  To make a very long story short, we had major red tape thrown up at us.  All for-profit urban farms did.  Urban farming was so new to the City of Chicago that nobody knew exactly which category of Business License we should fall under and also what sort of regulation/inspection should come with said license.  Some farms here decided to sit back and wait to see what the city decided.  We took a more forward approach and hired an attorney and expert in food regulation and compliance to help mitigate these bureaucratic waters.  Together we wrote the different public health authorities the city was deferring risk to – the USDA, FDA and Illinois Department of Public Health – asking for their guidance.  I had conversations with city officials to help them better understand aquaponics – going so far as to write up a Description of Business Activity.  In this document, I took the reader from seed and fingerling all the way through our daily operation until the time we harvest plants and fish and deliver them to our wholesale customers.  I made sure to include important *Notes* at the end of the document that could help officials better understand our aquaponic systems and operations.  For example, I made it clear that the systems are stand-alone.  They are never directly connected to the building water, so there is absolutely ZERO back flow risk.  I made sure to highlight the fact that fish are cold-blooded animals and ONLY warm-blooded animal manure carries food-born pathogens such as E.coli and Salmonella.  The idea was to think about what different worries the city may have had (i.e. public health concerns – water with fish waste somehow contaminating the city potable water supply, the food we grow somehow getting someone sick, etc.).  The Document succeeded in both educating officials about how aquaponic farming works and also alleviating officials’ concerns about the safety of aquaponic food production (after all, it’s safer than growing in the fields!).  Mission Accomplished!

Eventually I took part in a conference call with all the major Chicago Bureaucrats, and we hashed through – which licensing category we would fall under and what the Dept. of Public Health was going to require of us in order to get inspected and approved.  After over 3 months, it was determined that urban aquaponic farms would fall under the Wholesale Food Establishment Business License and that we would need a “packing area” that had: a 3-basin stainless steel sink (for sanitizing equipment/utensils and also to wash our produce in), a hand-washing sink (for sanitizing our hands) and lastly, a stainless steel table for packaging our product.  Fair enough.  We already had all of this in our plans.  Bottom line, we want to be responsible food producers!  It does us no good in creating a food production model and culture in local markets that doesn’t emphasize food safety as part of the mission.

Fast forward 3+ months, and our Nelson & Pade system was delivered, and we’ve been hard at work installing everything.  We have been approved for both our Aquaculture Permit and our Fish Import Permit, and we are going to have our friend, Tim, from the Illinois Dept. of Public Health come out to inspect any day now.  We are so close…I can almost taste the arugula.  Meh, bad joke.  Without further adieu, here are some pictures that take you through install…

Thanks to everyone who has been following along this whole time.  Soon this blog will be developed into a more “normal” website, but we always plan to maintain a blog.  In fact, we hope to have local chefs, food bloggers and the like contribute to our blog as guest bloggers each week.  Stay tuned!

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