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July 15, 2014
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Farm to Fork: Aquaponic system at Myrtle Creek business yields lettuce, other produce

Many times, outside influences are catalysts for inner change.

For Joey and Megan Ridgeway, starting a family sparked not only a lifestyle change, but a redirected purpose in life. Whole Wild World Market Gardens of Myrtle Creek developed because of this change. Poised for growth, the business is in its first year of production and is located on the same property as Flyboy Naturals Aquaponics.

Joey Ridgeway came to the Umpqua Valley several years ago to help out with Flyboy Natural, a business owned by his father and stepmother, Jim and Jamie Brown.

At that point Flyboy focused solely on biodegradable freeze-dried rose petals and fresh cut flowers for both national and international shipping. However, a few years ago, after much research and persuasion on Joey’s part, Jim and Jamie began construction on a state-of-the-art, closed-loop aquaponic system.

Unlike hydroponic methods, this aquaponic system is supported through fish — in this case tilapia — and does not require additives to grow produce. The fish are fed a mineral-rich vegetarian diet and water is cycled through the lettuce-growing tanks. Here the plant roots purify the water and consume the nutrients from the fish. Last winter this facility was up and running and it now is USDA-certified as organic by Oregon Tilth.

Flyboy focuses on growing different varieties of romaine lettuce, which do quite well in this environment. The company’s aquaponic system uses about 5 percent of the amount of water used in traditional farming. That’s an important statistic for an operation producing up to 2,300 heads of lettuce per week. Currently these are distributed to farmers markets, Sherm’s Thunderbird Market, Alexander’s Greek Restaurant and during the winter months, Seven Feathers Casino Resort.

Joey has done more for Flyboy Naturals than provide inspiration for its aquaponic system. He and his wife, Megan, have contributed to the growth and vision of what has and will be created on this lovely property. When Joey is working off the property, Megan sells the Flyboy Naturals organic lettuce along with produce from Whole Wild World Market Gardens at local farmers markets. Genetically modified organisms are not a part of the operation’s production methods. All of its produce is pesticide-free and predominantly grown using permaculture methods. This way of gardening requires substantially less water than traditional methods, complementing conservation efforts used by Flyboy Naturals.

Expansion is part of Whole Wild World Market Gardens’ future. Joey and Megan were recently awarded a grant for a 48-foot-by-96-foot greenhouse. They plan to plant 100 fruit trees next season, produce a larger garden and maintain a greenhouse full of nutrient-dense foods for their family and others.

The Ridgeways would also love to have a farm stand on property, along with a seating area open to the public.

Joey and Megan Ridgeway are the next generation of farmers. They are inspired to share this lifestyle with their children and thankful that their parents have passed it on to them.

Thank you, Whole Wild World Market Gardens and Flyboy Naturals, for helping our community eat fresh and for keeping it local.

Heather Barklow of Glide manages the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market and is the farm market promotion coordinator for Markets of the Umpqua, a program of NeighborWorks Umpqua. She also operates HB Horsemanship. She can be reached at heatherbarklow@gmail.com.


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The News-Review Updated Jul 15, 2014 11:43AM Published Jul 28, 2014 10:23AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.