Fish-minded entrepreneurs become fans of Trinidad State Aquaculture Program
Valley Campus / February 1, 2016 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
Mike and Victoria (de la Torre) Kelley have a dream of someday starting an aquaculture and/or aquaponics center. The idea of growing their own food using organic methods intrigues them. Four years ago they made the move from Denver to the San Luis Valley to pursue that dream. They were drawn by the wide open spaces, sunshine and thermal wells of the San Luis Valley. Three years ago they started an online aquaponics magazine that has now grown to a circulation of more than 120,000. They say it is the largest online publication of its kind. Mike markets their Aquaponics Survival Communities Magazine. Victoria is the editor. Both are concerned about “pseudo” foods including genetically modified foods (GMO’s) and foods with toxins and additives. After studying the research and watching the trends, they concluded aquaponics and aquaculture make a lot of sense.
It was a happy moment when one day at a local nursery they heard about Trinidad State’s unique aquaculture program, which teaches fish farming through a partnership with Colorado Catch Hatchery south of Alamosa. Mike signed up for the Fall 2015 semester with the intent to better understand what Victoria has spent so much time researching. “My first semester here was one of the best investments of my life,” said Mike, who has several degrees in Psychology.
“The difference between aquaculture and aquaponics,” explained Ben Webster, the Trinidad State Aquaculture Program Director, “is that aquaculture involves just one species. It can be a plant but is generally an animal organism. Aquaponics incorporates animals and plants together as a symbiotic relationship thus maximizing efficiency. Water is needed to grow fish and the nutrients the fish release through fecal waste in the water can fertilize plants.”
“We had more hands-on stuff in this course than any other college course I’ve ever taken from fileting and cooking fish to Colorado Catch, where we helped harvest, process, and bag fish from the beginning of the process to the end. In every class I learned something innovative and exciting,” said Kelley. “We even took a trip to the Denver aquarium where we were taken to the back and shown how the system works. We got to see the end result of all of this.”
It’s safe to say the Kelleys have become fans. The couple’s November 2015 magazine featured an article about the Trinidad State Aquaculture Program and the cover of that issue is a picture of Ben Webster standing in front of a wall of aquariums in his Alamosa classroom. In the interview for that article Webster said, “I would like to see this program teach, train and equip our nation in the area of aquaculture. My success here is only validated by the success of our students who put that knowledge to work.”
The December 2015 issue of the magazine featured pictures and articles about the fish fry the Trinidad State aquaculture students put on at the college, a trip out to work at the Colorado Catch near Sanford and a trip to the Denver Aquarium.
Webster is excited about this new relationship with the Kelleys and believes their interest in assisting the college will provide more opportunity for the Aquaculture Program. After researching aquaculture curriculum on line, Victoria concluded, “This by far is the cheapest aquaculture course you can get and it’s full of really great information.” Mike added, “This is one of the few colleges that actually offers the ability to get an aquaculture degree and the regulations are moving in this direction too. People need to be certified. It needs to be mainstreamed and go through colleges. There needs to be a curriculum. We think Trinidad can be the spark that ignites this across the country.”
“Being able to see the difference between what you are taught in class and then experience it in the real world is what makes the difference in this class,” said Mike. “In two years you can have a degree and if you already have a degree and have completed the general requirements, you could complete the curriculum in a year.” He added, “Another benefit of this class is networking. Through it I have connected with other like-minded people.”
“To see an education move forward into opportunity excites me,” said Webster. “It’s one thing to educate. It’s another thing to put wheels on an education and put that knowledge into practice. Opportunities for others is what this (program) is about.”