Student, SIFE to develop aquaponics project

Taylor Harrison

A desire to do more humanitarian work overseas led one WKU student to an idea for a business venture.

Dunn, N.C., native Harold Maxwell is a WKU alumnus who came back to take courses specific to business and marketing to prepare to run his upcoming business, Aquagreen.

Maxwell is planning to build a commercial size aquaponics system — a sustainable system that will produce organic vegetables as well as fresh fish. The water from large fish tanks will be taken through pipes to hydroponic vegetable beds. The nutrient-rich water from the fish will feed the plants and then the water will be recycled back to the fish, Maxwell said.

He was originally led to aquaponics when trying to find something he could bring to Third World countries.

“Having a system like this works,” Maxwell said. “It works well because you’re using nutrient rich fish water to feed the plants. It’s what happens in every lake, in every pond.”

As Maxwell explained it, the fish are making the fertilizer. All that someone would need to do to keep this system going is feed the fish.

“This is a sustainable, eco-friendly, low carbon footprint, recirculating system,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said that at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he became certified in aquaponics, their system has used the same water for decades.

While Maxwell is preparing to build a commercial-size system, he is also working on Project Aquagreen, a venture with Students in Free Enterprise. They will build a smaller version of the aquaponics system to do research, Maxwell said.

La Grange senior Laura Ringer, who served as SIFE’s CEO this year, said that when Maxwell presented his idea, all of the other SIFE members were really excited.

“He’s so inspired with this project, and so that kind of rubbed off on all of us,” Ringer said.

Part of the research SIFE will be doing is to find out how they can take the system overseas to Third World countries to teach people how to grow their own fish and vegetables.

Aside from the vegetables being organic and the fish being fresh, a benefit with this system is that vegetables grow three to four times faster.

“You’ve got a much faster turnover this way, and that’s where your market is,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell also said that it is better to buy local because someone knows what you are getting, unlike if you get vegetables from a farm in California or fish from a foreign market.

“My product, you can go home, you can cook it, and you can know that it’s good,” Maxwell said. “Would you want to go to the sewers of New York and catch a fish and take it home and eat it? That’s exactly what you’re doing in some cases.”

Maxwell has already discussed his upcoming product with local businesses. Though he hasn’t started construction of his site yet, he already has standing orders.

“I feel like food is good. Good food is great,” Maxwell said. “And that’s what sets us apart — the quality of the vegetables, the quality of the fish.”

After Maxwell opens his business locally, he wants to take it nationwide and to Third World countries.

“You’re not wasting water here,” Maxwell said. “The water’s completely recycled. It’s in a balanced ecosystem — it is the way of the future.”