By LUCINDA LEONARD
Special to The Press
Business-savvy Bart Jackson and Organic Certification Aquaponics Operation have brought the 21st Century to Martin with an alternate farming technique — growing vegetables without soil.
Aquaponics is a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables. It is popular with individuals looking for a healthier, cleaner and environmentally-friendly “farm to table” option, said Jackson, a Martin native and owner of Southern Fresh Farms.
Indoor farming utilizes substantially less water, land and labor than traditional agriculture. This method of farming provides wellness and better, more nutritious vegetables.
The magic behind Jackson’s earth-friendly aquaponic farm is the sustainable infrastructure that inspires innovative engineering design. He completed construction on his experimental grown beds using the aquaponic system in 2014. In 2017, he shifted to the current greenhouse structure, which is now Southern Fresh Farms, raising aquaponic vegetables, a form of agriculture that combines raising fish in five 680-gallon tanks and growing organically romaine lettuce, green and red butter leaf lettuce in 7,000-square-feet greenhouses.
In aquaponics, the nutrient-rich water from raising fish provides a natural fertilizer for the vegetables, in which the vegetables help to purify the water for the fish, year round, in any climate, and provides fresh local food free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
Aquaponics is the next big thing in sustainable agriculture and Jackson saw a need in the produce industry, having grown up in a farming family and working as a produce broker. Jackson said lettuce in the United States is transported from California and Arizona and dominates 56 percent of production, with around 44 percent production coming from China, according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center.
Jackson couldn’t do this alone. Gina Jackson, his mother, works in the greenhouse planting and harvesting and does general maintenance along with farm service agent Jeffrey McEwen. His wife Kandace, and children, Molly and Ross, are at the Martin Farmers Market every weekend, selling the aquaponic lettuce.
Southern Fresh Farms customers can find their products at Whole Foods, Tate’s Family Foods, Midtown Market in Paducah, Kentucky, and farmers markets in Martin and Union City.