November 29, 2017|By Kata Sharrer| Food and Farms

The Freshwater Institute embraces its dual-purpose mission to promote economic development and environmental protection. Being a part of Freshwater Institute’s Engineering Services team helps redefine conservation in a very specific way. For our work we typically team up with a federal or state entity to develop engineering solutions for targeted hatchery problems, like meeting new or changing regulatory requirements, or reducing water use in areas of the country where water shortages are a concern. We also work with the private sector to plan and design sustainable commercial fish farms using state-of-the-art technologies developed at the Freshwater Institute.

As part of Freshwater Institute’s Engineering Services team, the work I do as an Engineering Technician is very specialized. Generally, I work with one of my engineering colleagues to develop a detailed 3D computer model of a piece of equipment, or a fish system, or an entire fish hatchery, depending on the scale of the project. When working on a larger scale project—like the one for Superior Fresh that you’ll read more about in a moment—we typically spend weeks or more fine-tuning the 3D model. The model is built piece by piece. I start by creating the culture tanks, then add in the waste treatment equipment, next adding the piping and valves, and finally adding all the fine details like oxygen panels and float valves. My models are then used to create detailed engineering drawings used to execute their construction.

I’ve helped with the creation of numerous systems, but I typically don’t travel onsite to see the final product of my projects. That’s why I was so excited when I recently traveled for the first time to visit an aquaculture facility I helped build. It was amazing to see the real-life impact of my daily work.

Traveling with fellow Freshwater colleagues, we arrived in the rolling hills of west-central Wisconsin at the newly constructed Superior Fresh aquaponics facility to attend their much-anticipated grand opening event. With over 100 people in attendance, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the new state-of-the-art facility was celebrated with tours, speeches, a ribbon cutting and garden-side picnic. The event also marked the official opening of the only commercial Atlantic salmon fish farm currently operating in the United States.

11 29 IMG 3241Photo by Dagny Leonard.

During our visit we saw firsthand how our work at the Fund is helping to redefine conservation in rural areas of the Midwest. Brandon Gottsacker, Superior Fresh’s Chief Operations Officer (and past Freshwater Institute intern) gave us an extended tour of the fish house, greenhouse, and surrounding 720-acre property undergoing native restoration.

11 29 IMG 309511 29 Pond view copy

The greenhouse (left) and pond (right) are all part of their 720-acre property. Photos by Dagny Leonard.

Walking into the fish house for the first time was truly eye opening. As I stood next to the tanks (designed by our team at Freshwater Institute) filled with growing salmon and trout, I could see a clear, sustainable solution to the serious food security issue of relying on imports for over 90% of America’s seafood. Our partners were beginning to demonstrate economic success while helping to push the food system towards providing healthy, local, and sustainable options for consumers.

11 29 IMG 3348Brandon Gottsacker, COO of Superior Fresh (center) is joined by (l. to r.) Joe Hankins, Steve Summerfelt, Kata Sharrer and Natalie Redman of The Freshwater Institute.

The recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) at Superior Fresh are a more sustainable option because they produce a fish with have half the carbon impact of imported salmon, conserve water (reusing up 99% of the process water), capture waste and prevent pollution, and use feeds that don’t require the protein source come from ocean fish.  These are areas of concern with other aquaculture production methods.

11 29 IMG 3030Photo by Dagny Leonard.

The production model that Superior Fresh and other RAS facilities presents is one that embodies a fresh, local approach. The novelty of these systems is that they can be placed just about anywhere, and ideally near population centers. Superior Fresh, situated on the edge of Northfield, Wisconsin, is ~125 miles from Minneapolis, just over 200 miles from Milwaukee, and ~300 miles from Chicago. Superior Fresh can provide a healthy product and reduce the food miles travelled, which also contributes directly to local and regional economic health.

Working on this project with Superior Fresh was very rewarding, especially because I was able to witness my designs pop off the computer screen and come to life. Walking through and seeing it with my own eyes was something I won’t soon forget.

For more information on the innovation happening at Superior Fresh, check out these videos: