- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

MAQUOKETA, Iowa (AP) - Three siblings from Maquoketa, Iowa, are beginning to turn heads with a family-owned business that relies on aquaponics to produce fish and plants.

Maquoketa resident Matt Andresen, 26, opened Tri-M Aquaponics in 2012. The business has operated out of its 2264 200th Ave. location since March.

The name “Tri-M” is inspired by the presence of his older brother, Michael, and older sister, Megan.

Tri-M Aquaponics turns a profit by selling fish and produce created within a closed-loop, self-sustaining system in which plants and fish species facilitate one another’s existence.

While the process might appear complex, Andresen told the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/1lAWrIg) the general concept is simple.

“Water from the fish tanks passes through a biofilter, which turns ammonia from fish excrement into nitrates,” he said. “The plants then soak up the nitrates and send clean water back to the fish.”

The efficiency of this system has allowed Tri-M to raise more than 2,000 fish (the company now exclusively raises tilapia) in the past two years and produce approximately 24 heads of lettuce per day. The system also produces basil lettuce and other herbs.

These production rates are improving since the business moved into its new location, formerly the Sand Prairie Quail Farm.

Megan Andresen said the facility came equipped with numerous features that allowed for a smooth transition.

“The hatchery had humidity- and temperature-controlled rooms, and those climate controls are extremely important for what we do. Tilapia have to be kept around 75 degrees,” she said.

As Tri-M refines its processes, its owners are shifting their attention to the future.

The business sells its fish to agriculture departments and fish breeders equipped to handle larger tilapia.

As the business grows, Megan said the family plans to merge their work in aquaponics with their other business venture. The Andresens opened Brick Tap, a bar and grill in Maquoketa, in August 2013.

“The plan for the future is when the fish are big enough to fillet we want to serve them at our restaurant,” she said.

While Matt might be the family’s leading expert on aquaponics, all three siblings have extensive environmental knowledge.

Michael, 31, works as a sustainable architect based in Des Moines. Megan, 29, earned her master’s degree in environmental science from Florida Gulf Coast University.

Matt Andresen started experimenting with aquaponics as a college student at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. As a major in marine biology, Andresen had been intrigued by the idea of a self-sustaining food production system.

“It all started with a 10-gallon fish tank in my basement with a couple of my friends,” he recalled.

During his time in Alaska, Andresen remained in frequent contact with Megan, then living in Florida. Together, they discussed a plan to move back to Maquoketa and open a business that used aquaponics.

“I think we both left college really well-researched,” Megan said.

Andresen graduated from Alaska Pacific in 2011. Upon returning to Iowa, he and his siblings opened Tri-M out of an old Culligan Water facility.

Since then, the trio has relied on complementary skill sets.

“Michael is very knowledgeable on all things related (to sustainability), Matt does a lot of the everyday operations and I do a lot of the paperwork,” Megan said. “We all work really well together.”

As Tri-M continues to settle into its new facility, Maquoketa residents have started to take notice of what they are doing.

On May 6, the Jackson County Conservation Department organized on open house at Tri-M to give residents a glimpse at how the operation works. More than 50 people attended.

“We were surprised at how many people showed up,” Megan said. “Since we’ve been in town a couple of years the word has spread about what we do. The community seems very interested and supportive.”

Jessica Wagner, a naturalist with Jackson County Conservation Department, helped plan the recent open house.

On a philosophical level, Wagner believes the idea behind Tri-M aligns closely with the beliefs of the conservation department.

“What I think is neat is, instead of having this waste, you are channeling it into a purpose,” she said.

Wagner was pleased, but not necessarily surprised, to see the high turnout at the recent open house. She said there is a high level of interest in aquaponics and the local entrepreneurs who are embracing the concept.

“It is pretty awesome that some people in small-town Iowa are starting this up,” she said. “They are the first (aquaponics facility) locally that I have heard of … it is pretty unique for the area.”


Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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