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Aqua Vita In The Deep End: Looking For Investors and A Fresh Start

Aqua Vita is trying to grow healthy food for a better world. Aqua Vita is trying to grow healthy food for a better world.


Aqua Vita Farms in Sherrill, New York was the talk of the town in 2011. Aquaponics was, and still is, relatively unexplored in the United States and the farm made waves with a mission to fight its way into the industry for a better world and the future of agriculture. As only the fourth operation at the time to tread into the unknown waters of hydroponic vegetable and fish production, it was guaranteed to be a hit, if only for its ingenuity.

But just a little more than two years later, the company that has been touted by New York's Serious Eats as having "the most flavorful, cleanest-tasting tilapia" is struggling to stay afloat. In that small amount of time, the company has gone from start-up to a step away from shut down as a break into the business world of aquaponics proved a formidable task for Aqua Vita's founder, Mark Doherty.

Doherty, who counts on 15 years experience in the restaurant industry, a solid background in agriculture and hydroponics, and a MBA to boot, can hardly be called a fish out of water. The driven businessman convinced banks and the government his idea would grow into a success and rounded up everything he needed to get Aqua Vita off the ground: a $200,000 small business loan, a $20,000 grant from the Mohawk Valley development organization EDGE, backing from the USDA, and 30% start up income from his own pockets.

As time wore on however, the problems associated with opening a small business began to test Aqua Vita's ability to make its dream of sustainable agriculture a reality. Doherty, who wanted to make use of the plethora of unoccupied buildings in Sherrill, decided to house the farm's operations in an empty tableware factory. It was the company’s first stumble.

After the construction and retrofitting necessary for production was finished, the facility cost Doherty the same amount as if he had built the warehouse from new materials.

Doherty put this small misstep behind him and pushed forward. Working closely with aquaculture professional Scott Fonte, the two worked out an organic pest control program and a bio-filtration system to keep wastewater to an absolute minimum. They experimented in crops, moving from lettuce to the more profitable sweet basil, and from blue gill to tilapia to a specialty fish with a higher market price called pacu.

With blood, sweat, tears and a $500,000 investment behind him, Aqua Vita has at last reached its pinnacle. The only problem: the farm has exhausted all of its funds.

The company cannot be left to flounder and Doherty is actively searching for investors, resolute in keeping his vision alive. "I got into this by looking at my daughter, and thinking that if we didn't do something to change the way we farm, our children are going to run out of food," Doherty has said, "There's been a lot of progress, but unless we invest private dollars into these ideas we won't move fast enough." For future generations and the outcome of food production in America, Aqua Vita needs forward thinking investors to take that plunge.

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A look at the found of Aqua Vita and his vision for the future.
Last modified on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 14:52

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