Powering Agriculture with Aquaponics – Travis and Melissa Riney
In #AgriReady Clark County near Kahoka that is known for grain crops growing in rows, you may have to see Spring Water Produce to believe they are growing leafy greens and fish. And that is just what people often ask to do, according to co-owner Melissa Riney. Melissa has taken many opportunities to host several guests at the farm who want to see what aquaponics looks like.
“Customers ask how we do it. People are always asking if they can come visit the greenhouse,” Melissa said.
In 2016, Travis and Melissa’s daughter was bitten by a Lonestar tick and developed a condition called Alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is a food allergy which made their daughter allergic to red meat and other products from mammals. The Rineys wanted to be proactive about growing protein for their own family. After quickly deciding that having chickens was not a good fit for them, the Rineys set up four tanks to try raising Tilapia. Fish farming is known as aquaculture, and it often goes hand in hand with aquaponics which is the practice of growing plants in water. The Rineys traveled to Wisconsin to learn more about the aqua-farming business, and it wasn’t long before a large greenhouse was erected at the Riney residence.
What started as four fish tanks has grown to 16 tanks. Thirteen small grow beds have expanded with the addition of a cement grow bed that is the length of the greenhouse (nearly 200 feet) full of lush, growing greens. The water that fills the fish tanks is circulated by a pump through plumbing into the greenhouse grow beds and back to the fish tanks. The water contains nutrients that the fish have deposited; those nutrients are taken up by growing plants such as lettuce, kale, arugula and basil. The system grows food efficiently with lettuce able to go from a seed to sale in just 45 days. The leafy green crops are the easiest to grow. Crops such as tomatoes and squash can be grown using aquaponics, but they require more equipment, are more labor-intensive, and attract more pests. The Rineys carefully choose pest control methods on the farm because they must be safe for their fish. They often use biological controls such as ladybugs which eat destructive insects while doing no harm.
Because the aquaponic beds are so efficient and productive, it wasn’t long before Melissa became locally known as the “Lettuce Lady” at two seasonal farmers markets where she fills the niche of selling the leafy greens from Spring Water Produce. She fulfills orders in the off-season as well. She loves interacting with her customers face to face and enjoys visiting with them about eating healthy. She hopes to expand the number of markets that she supplies this year. As an experiment, Melissa tried growing a lemon tree and was so successful that she now has four. Her customers really enjoy lemons fresh from her farm which haven’t been covered in the preservative wax used to keep shipped lemons fresh.
While Travis and Melissa both have family ties to agriculture, they are new to agribusiness. Travis has a career in automation and process control and Melissa is a professional accountant. Besides operating Spring Water Produce, Melissa teaches business part time at a local high school. They enjoy their grandbaby and three grown children who are all married. They also just adopted a son who is 8. The Rineys are members of Missouri Farm Bureau, a partner of Missouri Farmers Care.