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DFW Aquaponics Farms, LLC, with headquarters in Burleson, has become the first Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) aquaponics farm in Texas. The farm is only the 10th aquaponics grower in the United States to become CNG certified. The national organization counts nearly 800 family farmers and beekeepers on its rolls. CNG is a private nonprofit organization, and is not governed by the extensive regulations of the federal organic program.

Affiliated farmers are committed to using natural practices, however, with no synthetic chemicals or GMOs. Most are small-volume farmers who also support hyper-local agriculture, farm-to-table efforts, CSAs, local farmstands and other cooperative and sustainable farming ventures.

Although the certification of aquaponics growers is new, David Cohen and Loretta Messinger, principals in DFW Aquaponics Farms, expect that other local producers will soon join the ranks. One of the benefits of association with other CNG farmers, notes Cohen, is the ability to form direct relationships and foster learning opportunities.

A unique feature of CNG certification is the requirement for peer review with ongoing annual inspections. “We look forward to the collaboration with other local growers,” said Cohen, who added that he and his partner are still actively learning about water chemistry, adjusting planting and harvesting schedules to deal with the vagaries of local weather, and investigating local farmers’ markets and other outlets for the produce that they grow.

Although both Cohen and Messinger have been involved with aquaponics for some time, DFW Aquaponics Farms began its commercial operation in December 2016. Previously, Cohen was affiliated with Green Phoenix Farms, an aquaponics systems design and installation company, and since the summer of 2015 has maintained a demonstration greenhouse as a teaching tool. He was instrumental in forming a Meet-up group to introduce aquaponics to hundreds of young people and adults over the past several years, and he leads classes for community groups and schools on a regular basis.

Related to hydroponics, aquaponics uses fish to supply nutrients for the produce. It is a cross between hydroponics and aquaculture, explains Cohen, and the closed-loop environment results in impressive savings of electricity and water.

Messinger, who with her husband is a Master Composter, has an extensive home garden that includes a personal aquaponics system. She explains that she has long held the dream of becoming a small-scale commercial farmer, and was thrilled that DFW Aquaponics Farms began selling lettuce and other salad greens at the Grand Prairie Farmers Market in April of this year. “Completion of the company’s 20x120-foot production greenhouse will allow us to supply more markets, and to expand our base of clients for fresh food”, she notes.

Aquaponics has been hailed as an eco-friendly method of production, and one of its benefits is that it requires a minimal physical footprint, according to these two local sustainable growers. The method is also suitable for isolated areas and developing nations, and systems can be adapted for indoor operations and for all climatic conditions.

“We are truly honored to be the first in Texas to receive the Certified Naturally Grown designation,” said Messinger, “and we look forward to growing great salads for our customers.”

In addition to bringing lettuce and other salad greens weekly to the Grand Prairie Farmers Market, the farm made its debut last weekend at Tyler Street Market, and has announced plans for a local Farmstand in Burleson that will offer salad greens and herbs, as well as eggs, honey and produce from other area growers. Although still in its infancy, Farmstand hours are currently from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Sunday morning openings will follow. Hours for both Grand Prairie and Tyler Street Market are from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

As one aspect of its continuing community outreach, DFW Aquaponics Farms hosts a “First Sunday” Open House monthly at its site in Burleson, 7512 FM 2738. Visit the website and follow the company on Facebook for additional information and for recipes featuring fresh produce.

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