“I haven’t always been a farmer,” said Dan Sadowski, as he watched water moving through an aquaponic PVC pipe system.
Sadowski, who for the past 20 years, has written mechanical engineering related software and code, now showcases a marriage between engineering and farming with the creation of Great Greens LLC, on an infrequently travelled section of Warren St. inside an UpTown Toledo warehouse. Using his passion for aquaponics, Sadowski saught additional business opportunities.
Area chefs benefit from local production
While Sadowski plans an eventual retail business component, he is currently focused on providing greens to chefs at some of Toledo’s premier dining spots such as M Osteria, Degage Jazz Café and Registry Bistro. According to Sadowski, feedback has been great.
“We cut and deliver the same day,” Sadowski said. “[Restaurants] are getting a better shelf life and a lot more flavor from our product. We are also growing a lot of things that restaurants specify. Since I am the guy making the contact with the customers, I see it as an opportunity to talk with the chefs and see what they need and what they like.”
Creating a sustainable ecology
Sadowski’s system combines fish farming and hydroponic gardening, using water instead of soil to encourage growth. In this system, fish provide fertilizer which feeds the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. The only material Sadowski adds to the system is fish food.
“What we’ve tried to do here is to create a sustainable ecology,” Sadowski said. “Fish produce ammonia which, with the help of bacteria, turns into nitrate. When the water is fed through the PVC, the plants suck up the nitrate, filter the water, and the filtered water is returned to the fish.”
Great Greens was a concept Sadowski developed with his cousin Omar Cantu, who enjoyed success in the Chicago restaurant business. After eight years of research and planning, Sadowski was ready to realize his vision.
“The layout here is deceptively simple,” Sadowski said. “There aren’t too many mechanics to it. You pump water once and the water runs forever. The trick is coming up with something deceptively simple that actually works— something that is sustainable and not a maintenance nightmare.”
As Sadowski continues to build and add to his system, the plan is to have his location eventually become certified as organic by the USDA. Reinforcing sustainability, Great Greens doesn’t use pesticides. When Sadowski was closing up the outdoor operation for winter he found some pests and used a simple solution:
“We went out and bought a couple thousand ladybugs,” Sadowski said. “We dealt with it naturally and it worked really well.”
While Great Greens may have begun as a hobby,for Sadowski, it’s become a great business opportunity.
“I can understand why there aren’t a lot of people doing this,” Sadowski said. “This is hard work. You have to dedicate yourself to doing it right and that does not equal a short workweek.”
While Sadowski’s major revenue generators are microgreens, tendrils and shoots, he has an abundance of other greens that can be available for market. In addition, Sadowski said he’s always willing to try something new, saying “Just like I tell the chefs, I don’t know if I can grow it or not, but I’ll give it a shot.”