Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom.  It continues to happen at every corner, if you look for the opportunities and participate.

I was fortunate to attend the first Hawaii Aquaponic Product Conference organized by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Aquaculture and Livestock Support Services.  (Did anyone even know there was such a department?)  The purpose of the conference was to connect as many as 100 buyers from grocery stores and food service industry establishments, with current aquaponic farmers and learn about their product.  Each of the producers were able to display their products in an exhibition format, and were given an opportunity to speak and share their power point presentations to a select audience.

I was surprised at the number of farmers identified on Oahu alone, that are now implementing aquaponic systems to cultivate both produce and new farm-raised fish varieties being introduced to Hawaii, like Pangasis (Swai catfish)… and did I hear Giant Gourami?  These farmers converted former orchid and mac nut farms, or used award-winning koi breeding technology to combine hydroponic and aquaculture farming to popularize what is now known as aquaponics, or Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) farming.  Not only are they raising sophisticated mixed lettuces and greens; they’re adding blueberries, baby taro and turmeric that can be grown out of season with their new clear water soil-free technology.  This is diversified ag mixed with creativity & innovation at its grassroots.

And the highlight?  Chef Alan and the KCC students and instructors produced a menu from these harvested products.  Tilapia never tasted so good!  From the FLOTUS’ favorite Tempura Tilapia Sliders and Steamed Tilapia with Shrimp Pork Hash and Naked Cow Dairy Truffle Nage, to our signature Sauteed Tilapia with Yuzu Brown Butter and Nagaimo.  But my new favorite, was Grilled Tilapia with Sweet Potato Vinegar Ponzu and Yuzu Wasabi Miso with Root Vegetables.  Not only was the fish so tasty, but the accompanying greens were fresh & crisp.  Yummmmm!

I’m hoping these new dishes make it onto our menu on a consistent basis.  But, it takes a while for new producers to reach the market.  It takes consumer demand to help raise supply for these farmers, and industry support to make farming economical with the rising cost of inputs.  We can all do our part in supporting our local producers, in all forms of agriculture.

~ Leigh Ito, VP of Development