At GYO Greens, fish are friends, not food. That’s because this Palm Valley farm utilizes aquaponics, a method of growing crops without soil, but with water-enhanced with natural fertilizer: namely, fish poop.
Owner Helga Tan started GYO Greens in 2013, because of her interest in sustainable living. GYO Greens uses a sustainable farming method, which combines traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants in water rather than soil). It is a method which relies on a symbiotic relationship between fish and the plants.
GYO Greens is headquartered in a greenhouse located on Canal Road in Palm Valley. Inside, two large tanks containing about 1,000 fish, mostly koi with some tilapia, mark the start of the cycle. In aquaponics, the plant-sustaining nutrients are produced by the fish instead of chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming. The plants then assist in the filtration of the water, which is then further filtered and returned to the fish tank, clean and ready for another cycle. This process of water use and reuse means that aquaponics requires much less water than traditional farming methods. No pesticides are used. Beneficial insects like ladybugs and companion planting of pest-repellent plants such as marigolds handle the pest control.
The plants themselves grow nestled in coconut and vermiculite, creating “rafts” of high-density foam floating on the water from the fish tank. These rafts can be used again and again for many years. Mostly recycled materials were used in the building of the facility as well. The most commonly grown crops are lettuce, arugula, swiss chard and watercress. They have a large selection of micro-greens, including amaranth, red vein sorrel and wheat grass. Micro-greens are a trendy garnish at many fine dining establishments. They are valued not just for their ornamental appearance, but also for their concentrated nutritional value.
Tan relishes being part of the Palm Valley community, and credits their loyal support for the current success of the venture.
“We have a number of consistent customers that have helped us from the very beginning,” she said. “They constantly buy our produce now, and they help us pick the specialty crops that we grow for them.”
Local restaurants including Medure, Palm Valley Fish Market and Moxie regularly feature GYO Greens on their menu. Tan credits a shared vision for local farm-to-fork food.
“Tom Gray from Moxie has been a big supporter of us,” she said. “Obviously, his restaurant, his mission, are both so in line with ours.”
She is also looking forward to further expanding this vision through a partnership with Farm to Family, an outreach program that aims to meet the challenges of food insecurity with a program that supports the entire local food economy in St. John’s County.
GYO Greens is open to the public. Customers can pick their own greens and purchase them by weight or by the container. You can also find GYO Greens at local farmers markets including Tuesdays at the Palm Valley market and selected Saturdays at Nocatee.