HAIKU – Lloyd Fischel lives with thousands of golden tilapia in his backyard.
Although he could make a business off of harvesting the fish, he keeps the critters in their two large fishponds for educating students and the community about science and how to be sustainable.
“I think the message is anybody can grow fish or vegetables in a small yard for little cost,” Fischel said.
In the past six years he has been pushing that message as hundreds of students have visited his 2-acre Haiku property.
For his efforts, Lanikai Farms last month received a Heroes of Agriculture, Food and Environment award from the 2010 Hawaii Agriculture Conference “Celebrating Change” on Oahu.
Fischel was one of 10 groups of Mauians receiving awards. (See box). Fischel, who works with his partner, Karen Klemme, placed in the Food Business or School Doing Business With Excellence category. The conference was hosted by the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii.
While Fischel, who is also president of the Maui Farmers Union, said he was humbled by the award and pointed to the achievements of the other winners, he feels he has a good program he wants to bring to the public.
With funding in part from the Sea Grant Pacific Tropical Ornamental Fish Program of the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Economic Development Alliance of Hawaii, Fischel designed and built the educational facility to teach biological filtration and how to raise fish.
From Fischel’s 10,000-square-foot greenhouse he uses for his business, Fragrant Orchids of Maui, he captures the rainwater from the roof, which is then channeled through a 10-inch PVC pipe.
It rains more than 100 inches per year in his part of Haiku. Only twice since he built the system has he had to use his garden hose to replenish the ponds.
The first pond, 55,000 gallons, is home to tilapia.
Water from that 24-foot by 60-foot pond is then pumped through an underground tube into a round pond, 20 feet in diameter, several feet away.
In that 3,000-gallon pond is a filter of three layers of rocks, largest on the bottom, medium sized rocks in between and small rocks on top.
The water from the large pond fills the smaller pond from the bottom up. As the water rises, the rocks, which have bacteria on them, come into contact with the particles from the unfiltered water and capture them.
The cleaned water is then sent back to the original pond and the process repeats itself.
Fischel says the water, which looks clear coming out of a pipe, is not clean enough to bathe in but good for growing both fish and vegetables.
There are thousands of “plate-sized” golden tilapia in his big pond, and he keeps koi as pets in his filtration pond.
He doesn’t have to feed the tilapia. They eat the algae that grows in the green-tinged water.
Lanikai Farms periodically holds “jamborees” in which children are invited over to catch the fish using gray and red worms.
“When they fish, they bring out ice chests full,” said Fischel.
Fischel said the same type of filtration system and ponds, although smaller, can be set up in someone’s backyard for less than $1,000.
Raising one’s own fish makes for a more sustainable lifestyle, he says, and people could also do it for profit if they had the time and energy.
“We could sell every fish. (But) the time it takes to (take to) market is onerous. We focus on getting our flowers to market,” Fischel said.
Fischel and Klemme enjoy the rewards of having two large ponds in their backyard.
“The fried fish is good,” Klemme said with a smile.
The farm is available for tours for students in grades 5 through 12. For more information see: www.lanikaifarms.com.