Gone Fishin’

These for­mer grain farm­ers now har­vest pro­duce and tilapia from their Wis­con­sin green­house all year long—with no soil re­quired.

Farm & Ranch Living - - NEWS - By Bonny Good­e­nough Min­doro, Wis­con­sin PHO­TOS BY SA­VANNA AND TRENT WILDER

Once grain farm­ers, they now har­vest pro­duce and tilapia.

We are Tim and Bonny Good­e­nough from Min­doro, Wis­con­sin. Our kids are Bos­ton, 23; Kessler, 17; Wyn­d­sor, 15; and Elly, 13. And our farm is Float­ing Gar­dens. We op­er­ate an en­vi­ron­men­tally con­trolled green­house where we grow pro­duce aquapon­i­cally—without soil—all year long. Our pri­mary crop is leafy greens (aka fancy let­tuce). We also grow kale, Swiss chard, eg­g­plant, toma­toes, pur­ple beans and herbs, and sell tilapia—the fish that fer­til­ize the wa­ter for our plants. We be­lieve aquapon­ics will be the new face of farm­ing be­cause it is sus­tain­able and healthy and can sup­ply more food per acre than tra­di­tional farm­ing.

We started this in late 2016 af­ter spend­ing 20 years as grain farm­ers. Our op­er­a­tion is on my hus­band’s fam­ily farm in the west-cen­tral part of Wis­con­sin, where they raised dairy, hogs and beef for three gen­er­a­tions be­fore us.

Cop­ing with Cater­pil­lars and Small Fry

Aug. 1 Our rou­tine started with feed­ing the hun­gry tilapia by

7 a.m. We also dumped clar­i­fiers (the equip­ment that cleans the wa­ter used by fish), planted seeds and washed rafts. They’re 2-by-4foot pieces of in­su­la­tion that float on the wa­ter and pro­vide plat­forms for grow­ing light­weight pro­duce such as let­tuce. When I re­turned home from de­liv­er­ing let­tuce to lo­cal stores, our rou­tine turned up­side down. A cus­tomer had com­plained about a cater­pil­lar in a head of let­tuce. Af­ter con­fer­ring with one of the in­dus­try’s top pro­duc­ers, we de­cided to re­call the let­tuce I had just de­liv­ered and dump the let­tuce in our rafts.

Aug. 2 Tim and I headed out in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions to re­call let­tuce and talk to cus­tomers about why we were dump­ing prod­uct. Later we an­a­lyzed the pro­duce we had re­trieved for signs of cater­pil­lars, and then spent the rest of the day dump­ing 3,600 heads of let­tuce and wash­ing rafts.

Aug. 3 Af­ter a hearty break­fast, we all headed to our green­house, which is ac­tu­ally four green­houses joined to­gether, with an­other 150-by-25foot build­ing added to the back for elec­tri­cal equip­ment, plus boil­ers for heat and space for har­vest­ing fish. While Tim and Bos­ton in­stalled a ser­vice door, the two other boys and I moved plants into newly emp­tied rafts and pulled plants from me­dia beds. Peb­ble-filled me­dia beds are where we grow such crops as kale, sweet pep­pers, toma­toes and Swiss chard. In­stead of a good sup­per, we set­tled for bowls of ce­real at 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 Each month we get a ship­ment of 260 baby tilapia

(called fry) that are 1 inch long and weigh al­most 1 gram each.

Our new­est ba­bies ar­rived at 1:30 p.m. For the next two hours, we ac­cli­mated them to our wa­ter.

Ev­ery five min­utes we added a cup of our sys­tem wa­ter to the wa­ter hold­ing the fish. Then we moved the fry to their tanks, count­ing and weigh­ing them as we went along, so we could cal­cu­late the amount of food they needed.

Aug. 5 Mov­ing some of the largest fish to the purge tank ended up at the top of our to-do list. Purge tanks are where we put the fish to detox­ify and elim­i­nate any im­pu­ri­ties from their bod­ies. They stay there for about five days prior to har­vest.

Aug. 6 We let the kids sleep in to­day.

They joined Tim and me around 11 a.m. and we worked un­til 3 p.m. It started to rain, so we took a break for left­over pizza and naps. We then re­turned to the green­house and put screen­ing on a wall that Bos­ton had built to fit into the garage door. The screen­ing will let air into the back of the green­house. We fin­ished the day with pop­corn and malts.

Aug. 7 I got up early, started a load of laun­dry, washed the dishes and worked at the com­puter. I woke up the kids at 8:15 and threw in an­other load of laun­dry be­fore head­ing to the green­house. Once every­one ar­rived, we fin­ished in­stalling the screen­ing, stripped old plants from the me­dia bed, trimmed toma­toes, moved herbs and washed rafts. I told the boys I would take care of sup­per dishes if they trimmed the lawn. Tim took over, though, so I could email cus­tomers to let them know fish would be avail­able next week. It was a long day.

New Equip­ment

Aug. 8 The kids took over feed­ing fish and mov­ing plants while Tim and I headed off to a full day of Wis­con­sin Farm to School Net­work train­ing about 40 min­utes away. There we made valu­able con­tacts while learn­ing about re­quire­ments schools have to meet when find­ing lo­cal pro­duce to feed their stu­dents.

Aug. 10 We pulled 40 fish out of the purge tanks and put them on ice to ex­pire and chill down. My par­ents, Tim and I started fil­let­ing 40 fish. We baked, grilled and deep-fried a few so we can tell cus­tomers the best ways to pre­pare it. It was 10:30 p.m. by the time we fin­ished, so my par­ents de­cided to stay over. We TILAPIA, PLEASE

Tilapia is an easy fish to grow in an aquapon­ics op­er­a­tion—a boon for be­gin­ners like the Good­e­noughs.

This rugged, dis­ease-re­sis­tant fish can han­dle a wide range of prob­lems with wa­ter qual­ity, tem­per­a­ture and am­mo­nia lev­els. Plus, Bonny Good­e­nough says, tilapia is a mild white fish that con­sumers crave for its fla­vor and ease in cook­ing.

The Good­e­noughs bring in new tilapia monthly, con­stantly mov­ing them from the nurs­ery to the main sys­tem, then out of the main sys­tem to har­vest. On any given day there are nine sizes of fish in the Float­ing Gar­dens green­house.

love it when we get to have a slum­ber party with them.

Aug. 12 Last night we watched a Hall­mark Christ­mas movie Elly had been talk­ing about for a month. I may have napped a lit­tle while watch­ing, but Elly never no­ticed.

To­day Tim and the boys caulked the green­house while I took Elly to a birth­day party. I raced home to change clothes so Tim and I could go to a wed­ding. We left the kids in charge, but our Sen­sa­phone will al­ways mon­i­tor green­house con­di­tions while we are gone. We knew we’d get called if a pump went out or the tem­per­a­ture on any of the sys­tems got too hot or cold.

Aug. 13 We plan to move our big com­mer­cial freezer to the green­house to hold fish and ice, which meant I had to buy two freez­ers yes­ter­day to re­place it in the house. Tim picked up one of the new freez­ers while I picked up Wyn­d­sor from his se­cond day of soc­cer try­outs. Later, Elly and I husked 24 ears of corn. We ate

BLT’s and corn for sup­per.

Aug. 14 The boys left home by 6:30 this morn­ing for soc­cer prac­tice. When they got back, they helped Tim with rou­tine green­house tasks while I worked at get­ting bar­codes as­signed to our prod­ucts. At noon, Elly and I drove to town for mid­dle school regis­tra­tion and then to the Di­vi­sion of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles to reg­is­ter our two new trucks—one of them a re­frig­er­ated truck for de­liv­er­ies.

Mildew Mal­func­tion

Aug. 15 I spent the morn­ing cut­ting and bag­ging herbs for de­liv­ery. Af­ter lunch, the boys went to reg­is­ter for high school. I found time to re­search the re­quire­ments for our next step, a food-pro­cess­ing area in our fa­cil­ity.

Aug. 16 We weigh 10 fish from each tank ev­ery two weeks so we can re­cal­cu­late the amount of food they re­quire as they grow. Af­ter to­day’s weigh-in, we dis­cov­ered pow­dery mildew on all the pro­duce grow­ing on the rafts. What a let­down! We stud­ied the en­vi­ron­ment logs and dis­cov­ered hu­mid­ity had reached

be­tween 92 and 97 per­cent the past three nights. No won­der mildew set in. We changed the set­tings so vents open dif­fer­ently and the fur­naces turn on to drive out mois­ture.

Aug. 18 Yes­ter­day was the last full day for the fish in the purge tanks, so we low­ered the tem­per­a­ture on the chiller to slow down their me­tab­o­lism. I got up at 2 a.m. and dis­cov­ered that the chiller was on but that the wa­ter sup­ply was not, so the chiller froze up. I un­plugged every­thing to thaw un­til 5 a.m.

At 11 a.m. we started fil­let­ing fish. We re­moved the rest of the fish from the purge tanks by 3 p.m. so they would ex­pire be­fore 5 p.m. when cus­tomers ar­rived. Our fil­let­ing classes started at 6 p.m. Peo­ple came in and out un­til 8 p.m., af­ter which we still had to fin­ish fil­let­ing the un­sold fish. At 10 p.m. we ate sup­per and went to bed. Glad this day is over.

Aug. 19 To­day was spe­cial, so we did min­i­mal tasks in the green­house. We don’t ever get a full day off, but af­ter the chores, the boys in the fam­ily headed off to a pro­fes­sional soc­cer game in Chicago as a 17th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion for Kessler.

Elly and I and Bos­ton’s girl­friend de­cided to en­joy the day with pedi­cures and a movie.

Aug. 21 Tim left at 2 a.m. to go to his part-time job driv­ing a semi­trailer. Wyn­d­sor, Elly and I worked to dump the mildewed plants, and then got ready to host the soc­cer team for din­ner. We served 31 boys and went through a lot of food.

Or­ders to Fill

Aug. 23 We fi­nally get to har­vest let­tuce again, so the kids and I hur­ried to fill an or­der. Later, Elly and I dropped off some pro­duce be­fore I de­liv­ered her to band camp. Af­ter do­ing some chores, I caught a 30-minute nap. A 5 a.m. wake-up is too early when you worked un­til 9:30 the night be­fore. We fin­ished the day with tilapia—done on the grill so the mess stayed out­side.

Aug. 24 Elly had band camp again. The boys had an evening soc­cer game in La Crosse. Amid all the driv­ing, we man­aged to har­vest let­tuce and fill the rafts with plants. It feels so good to sup­ply prod­uct to restau­rants and stores again.

Aug. 25 We started with green­house jobs such as set­ting out sticky traps for fly­ing pests. But I stayed in the house to can salsa and spaghetti sauce. Tim and I sat down at 9 p.m. to watch TV while we waited for the can­ners to fin­ish, set­ting a timer just in case we fell asleep.

Aug. 26 Af­ter the boys’ 10 a.m. soc­cer game, we headed straight to the green­house to seed, move plants and de­cide where to set up an of­fice. Once that’s done, I’ll be able to get some of­fice work done in down times dur­ing the day. I’m too tired to do it in the evening by the time I get back to the house.

Aug. 28 Tim and Kessler hung new tomato trel­lises while Elly and I made three batches of tri­fle for dessert at the boys’ team din­ner. We left at 5:30 p.m., re­turned four hours later and went straight to bed.

Aug. 29 Af­ter a busy work­day, Tim cleaned up to go to the boys’ soc­cer game, but I stayed home—too much on my plate. I cleaned out dried-up plants that were done pro­duc­ing, dumped nurs­ery clar­i­fiers and bat­tled green­house pests by re­leas­ing ben­e­fi­cial ne­ma­todes, wasp lar­vae and bac­te­ria. We like to treat prob­lems with them in­stead of chem­i­cals.

Aug. 31 My mother-in-law is com­ing to clean, giv­ing me the time to up­date the web­site and make stick­ers for our herbs. Af­ter let­ting the kids sleep un­til 7:30 a.m., we all worked un­til noon. Bos­ton showed up to go over the con­struc­tion projects we asked him to han­dle. Kessler and Wyn­d­sor went to their soc­cer game at 5 p.m. The rest of us drove to the game about 6:30 p.m. and fed the fish when we re­turned a few hours later.

I hope you en­joyed a peek into our lives. We do the best we can, run­ning our farm­ing busi­ness while jug­gling fam­ily time and the kids’ sports and ac­tiv­i­ties, but we wouldn’t trade a thing.

Fish farm­ing re­quires nearly daily clean­ing. Bonny Good­e­nough gets to work on one of the fam­ily’s mas­sive tanks.


Float­ing Gar­dens farm spans four green­houses. Be­low, Bos­ton Good­e­nough in­spects the tilapia.

The whole Good­e­nough fam­ily pitches in dur­ing busy times in the green­houses. Here, Wyn­d­sor and Elly swap grow­ing trays with young plants.

Kessler and Bonny Good­e­nough har­vest and bag let­tuce heads ready for de­liv­ery.

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