Our Origin Story:
It is always difficult to trace the exact beginning of any origin story. At what point did the light-bulb go off sending us on this unexpected course?
Wherever the true start lies, we’ll start our story with the book that sparked imagination setting us on our way. This book was so impactful we were actually reading it for fun in college. Truth be told we read it at the expense of those “required readings” for our classes. The book, 1491, by Charles C. Mann, recounts the tale of the Americas prior to Columbus’s journey. It provides a snapshot into history. We became inspired by the ancient Aztec Capital Tenochtitlan (presently Mexico City) floating upon Lake Texcoco (that’s right..floating).
The Aztecs built their chinampas systems on Lake Texcoco to feed their vast city-state. On the shallow lake bed, piles of organic matter like reeds were stacked up and planted with trees. As the reeds broke down to soil the tree roots would lock it all into place. Now the banks became permanent structures that simply absorb nutrient laden water from the fish in Lake Texcoco. These beds grew the food that helped build and support the great Aztec Empire. Chinampas are essentially in-ground aquaponics.
‘This city provides food for itself AND grows it all within the city’??? To this day this floors us! We can honestly say that this book inspires us to really focus. “What can we do to help create a sustainable food future? What would it truly take to feed a modern city. Can we do it in a way similar to how the Aztecs fed there ancient cities”
As inspiration often does, this led to much late night Googling. Turns out if you Google “chinampas” at 3am on a Wednesday and dive into a few links you end up stumbling across aquaponics. It was like a light-bulb turned on over our heads. ‘OK so this is the modern day incarnation of that amazing feat by the Aztecs’. Right then we knew we had to take action. (If you’d like check out Spencer’s blog on ancient Aztecs use of chinampas inspiring us and powering many ancient civilizations.)
Take action we did! Three bus rides and two transfers later, Spencer was crossing half of Boston on his journey to the fish store. It was a couple hundred dollars happily spent. Then he made his way back across the city with a 20 gallon fish tank filled with sand, fish food, water pump, and air pump. In addition, he had 3 brave platys who were chosen to be our first real Aquapioneers. Spencer had them stuffed inside his puffy winter jacket because we’d just been slammed with a major Nor’easter. Needless to say it was not the most well planned, or comfortable start to a journey. Those brave first fish and the many generations that came after taught us so much about aquaponics. That first foray was the reason we decided to continue our journey, making bigger and bigger systems.
We cannot stress enough the importance of starting small and starting within your means. The image to the right shows just how small our first system was. “From humble beginnings, good things come” was definitely true in our case. Just about every aquaponics failure we’ve heard of stems from starting too big, too fast and without the right plans, strategies or structures in place. You don’t have to start as small as we did but don’t start with 100,000sqft of greenhouses either. For help on sizing your first system check out our Start Here Page. This will guide through the process of starting from scratch with all the right resources to avoid costly and timely mistakes.
We started very small due to our tight restrictions on space and funds. This taught us frugality and innovation. To this day we’ve bootstrapped our farm and business all ourselves. This was once a major barrier, but is in truth a vital part of the success of any aquaponics company. Start small and grow organically.
Many of our major pains at this point emerged from the frustrating lack of solid, centralized information. We also felt isolated in our aquaponic explorations. The first major answers came from the Aquaponic Association’s 2nd annual conference. It was an amazing time connecting with other like minded people and staying up late talking aquaponics and all the coolest, latest techniques in the field. We left the conference invigorated only to arrive home to realize we were missed our new peers in aquaponics.
We pushed on and continued our trials with the Boston apartment system. By the time our lease ran out, we knew this was what we had to be doing full-time. We moved back home to Glastonbury, Connecticut, a suburb with a rich history of farming.
Inspired to feed ourselves, we built a backyard system that began to provide us with an incredible abundance of crops. We focused mainly on herbs; although we’ve experimented with a huge diversity from hops to ginger to green tea. The abundance of our garden surprised even us and we began to sell to our family, friends, and neighbors. By that winter we had our first winter herb CSA program. (I know what you are thinking….”You started with a winter CSA?”) That’s right! It was small, but small works! We delivered between one and three types of herbs every week to seven families in our community.
The next summer we joined the local farmer’s market and were even invited onto the board. We built ourselves an even bigger system at a local farm, Robb’s Ice Cream Shoppe. Once again we took on the task of bootstrapping it all ourselves and diving in head first with enough focus and gusto to make up for our lack of resources and experience. There were a lot of challenges we found ourselves facing. Often times it felt like we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole (and in some instances we were because we had the square pegs for free). We spent the majority of the build-out time hand leveling our site which took two months.
The system plumbing was designed so that gravity would move water through the system from the highest point to the lowest point. This meant we had to create levels on our greenhouse floor that were one inch lower than the level next to them. This created a natural gradient for our water flow letting gravity take care of the work. It was tough work that was well worth it in the long run. Once we had finished leveling we built our 1000 sqft. system in about three weeks. Then we built our greenhouse around it while our system cycled and plants started growing.
We got our greenhouse covered just in time for the first frost that fall. Timing was just on our side! We relied heavily on Robb and his ingenuity. Not to mention his tractor! We used that not only to move greenhouse walls and parts around, but also as a ladder to reach the 20 ft. apex of the greenhouse.The image o the left shows Spencer getting a lift to work on a few hard to reach purlins. For more on our build-out at Robb’s Farm check out our Robb’s Farm Project Page.
Once set up at Robb’s we started becoming more and more active in the community. We helped others in our community build, grow, and earn with their own aquaponics systems. We did outreach with schools and built systems in classrooms across the state. Others started becoming interested in aquaponics too and we started a meetup group to bring together the Aquapioneers in our state. Now we’re over 200 members strong and still growing! Our meetups reminded us of the awesome times we’ve had at the conference a year prior. Check out a video playlist of one of our meetups at Robb’s.
In our efforts to continue connecting and inspiring others to bring aquaponics into their lives, one way or another we have created ways for aquapioneers to interact. Our aquaponics slack hosts folks from around to the world to discuss, share and learn with each other while exploring their individual journeys into aquaponics. If you’d like to join the slack just shoot us a note via the contact us page with “slack” in the subject and we’ll send you an invite.
Despite our successes we were still running very small margins at this stage and we were investing all our profits back into the company, taking very little home for ourselves. As such, Sperry Morway exited the company in 2014 and Matthew Braddon exited the company in 2015 to pursue alternative careers. Remaining founders Spencer Curry and Kieran Foran continued farming and working with system clients. In this time the CEO, Spencer Curry, also rose to the board of the international Aquaponic Association and has contributed to a popular column in the leading Aquaponics trade magazine.
The Founders took part in the reSET Impact Business Accelerator in 2014, where they eventually won the Most Promising Business award. During this time, the Founders met Eric Francis who was also considering an aquaponics business.
His passion for aquaponics, the drive to share it with the world, and the gumption to jump out there and make it happen align exactly with Spencer and Kieran’s principles. Eric worked with the company on a few projects and then joined the company as a full partner in early 2015 as the CSO and Head of Customer Success.
The Company received many awards and community support in 2015, including the CT Next Entrepreneur Innovation Award ($12,000), the CT Innovation Summit Most Promising Energy, Environmental & Green Technology Company, and the reSET Impact Awards Platinum Prize (with $20,000 purse!).
In addition, the company partnered with an old colleague of Kieran; Andrew Ingalls. As a geologist and environmental scientist, Andrew was fascinated with the work that Kieran and Spencer were doing with closed-loop ecosystems. The Company saw a great potential partnership with Andrew Ingalls, M.Sc. as he offered a scientific background that would accelerate their drive to advance and legitimize aquaponics.
Trifecta worked with Andrew on a few grant writing endeavors in 2015 that succeeded in two grants totaling $95,241 from the United States Department of Agriculture and the CT Department of Economic & Community Development. The grants are to develop and implement proprietary controlled environment agriculture aquaponics technology and study the results in comparison to established production figures from traditional farming methods. Andrew joined the company as a full partner in early 2016 as the COO and Head Researcher.
The company is now poised for growth in Meriden and throughout Connecticut. We are working with local partners to raise awareness and increase availability of our offerings in the community. Trifecta Ecosystems will end its year building out a research facility and pilot farm in the city of Meriden. This culminates the beginning of the next phase and the next big step for Trifecta Ecosystems. Our research will focus on the viability of vertical farming in an urban setting, looking to showcase the feasibility in the state of Connecticut. If successful, we hope to use this facility and the research results to inspire new and current farmers across the state to grow vertically. At this space we will also host seminars, workshops, tours, and meetups to showcase the farm and hopefully inspire others to take up the call.
We will work with anyone who needs assistance with any stage of their venture and allow them to utilize our network and resources to ensure their success. This is the vision we commit to everyday. This next step brings us that much closer to seeing it through. With four years in the books we’ve come a long way and overcome many challenges. Now that we are moving even further along in our story we know we will face more obstacles ant this time around the stakes are even higher.
Challenge accepted, because worldwide our cities are growing, our farm land is diminishing, and our future in far from secure. The more people we can inspire to grow the more secure our local community becomes. This will ripple out more and more communities. To read more about our vision for the future check out our vision page.
We’re taking the first step to making Meriden the City that Feeds Itself™ with this move. With planning for second locations already occurring for 2017 and 2018 we will strive to make a big impact in many cities across the state. The first step is growing food in various neighborhoods to make them more food secure. To follow along with us on our journey, follow us on facebook, instagram, and twitter and join our email list.